Talking Heads: The Outside Dog

Alan Bennett
London Theatre Company
BBC iPlayer
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Rochenda Sandall

The Outside Dog is, if the pun can be pardoned, a very different animal from the other works in this series.

Under the direction of Nadia Fall, Rochenda Sandall gives an outstanding performance as Marjory, a role originally created by Julie Walters.

This play is a chiller, focusing on the thoughts and feelings of a gutsy married woman who appears to be suffering from the brand of obsessive-compulsive disorder that leaves her cleaning frantically and perpetually.

That is the least of the problems that this lady has to face, since her husband Stuart who works in a slaughterhouse is accused of being a serial killer, akin to the Yorkshire Ripper. To up the ante considerably, the accusations come from his snooty mother.

Strangely, in some ways, Stuart is less of a significant character than his violent, dirty dog Tina, which eventually becomes a major player in his trial for murder.

All of this is observed at one remove through the eyes of Marjory, who not only describes her life in considerable detail but also points to potentially incriminating evidence that she seems reluctant to share with anybody, including the police.

Viewers are therefore given an opportunity to share the trials and tribulations of a wife in an impossible situation, with nosy neighbours, an unfriendly mother-in-law and eventually the attentions of the police and, thereafter, the mass media.

Her natural reluctance to point the finger of accusation at Stuart is compounded, given that, like the police, she has few certainties and is obliged to consider the import of circumstantial evidence.

Helped by strong direction and clever lighting, Rochenda Sandall gives a deeply moving performance as a lady seemingly torn between loyalty to her husband or society.

The Outside Dog may be out of kilter with the dark but lightly humorous plays that make up the majority of the Talking Heads series but it is an object lesson in the kind of gripping work that a top playwright can deliver when he moves outside his comfort zone.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher