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Talking Heads: Nights in the Garden of Spain

Alan Bennett
London Theatre Company
BBC iPlayer
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Tamsin Greig

This play certainly opens in dramatic fashion as, under the direction of Marianne Elliott, Tamsin Greig playing Rosemary Horrocks explains that her story begins with a knock on the door from her neighbour Mrs McCorquodale.

Rather than merely passing the time of day or admiring the front garden, the visitor announces that she has just killed Mr McCorquodale, apparently as a final response to years of physical abuse.

This is the catalyst for a great degree of soul-searching by nervous Rosemary, played in the original series by Penelope Wilton.

Alan Bennett’s style has always made him the master of the non sequitur and they are abundantly apparent as the archetypal housewife attempts to come to terms with a corpse in her neighbour’s living room, blood seeping from a bullet wound to the head.

One response to the shocking events is a new pastime, in that Rosemary charitably begins to tend to the deceased’s garden.

Going a step further, she also befriends Fran McCorquodale, visiting her in prison and listening to tales of depravity that inevitably add an extra level to the quality and depth of an increasingly intriguing drama.

Rosemary’s dull husband Henry is no paragon either, given his strong desire to retire to Marbella, more concerned about the impact of the murder on house prices than the fate of the victim.

Indeed, one of the points of this piece is to expose the frustrations that must inevitably fester in many long-term marriages, especially when the spouses head towards retirement age and are obliged to spend much more time together.

Yet again, a satisfying play is greatly enhanced by a top-notch performance, which is a credit both to this piece’s director Marianne Elliott and Sir Nicholas Hytner, who has put together what must undoubtedly be one of the TV highlights of the year.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher