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BWW Review: TALKING HEADS: BED AMONG THE LENTILS, BBC iPlayerOne of the more iconic performances in the original runs was Dame Maggie Smith's tour de force as Mrs Vicar and there's just no getting away from the memory of that voice - Lesley Manville has a tough act to follow.

Susan pretty much hates her lot - the wife of an upwardly mobile rural vicar, surrounded by women who adore him (and, consequently, despise her), endless good works stretching into the future with no release. That she's not very good at creating flower arrangements for the altar may be just one of those things, but she's already self-sabotaging long before she snaffles the communion wine to feed her alcoholism.

Even that personal nightmare becomes just another prop for her husband, now parading her as a redeemed soul, a living, breathing emblem of his Christian empathy, his moddish credentials irrefutably proven. Nobody can gainsay that feather in his cap when the church is looking for relevance.

Salvation comes from an unexpected quarter - a man as different from her husband as one might imagine shows her that God's gifts can come in many kinds of wrapping paper and need not "mean" anything. An Indian grocer sees her not as a list of obligations and a handy prop, but as a woman - and, in doing so, allows her to see that too.

Manville is very good indeed. The quiet desperation is, under Nicholas Hytner's assured direction, delivered quietly, the disdain that infects every moment of her life stated matter-of-factly, the pain all the more obvious for being held back. The intimacy that was incomparably conjured by Thora Hird's performances in the first runs, is in every fiddle with the wedding ring, every semi-smile at recalled delights, every wistful half-sigh that it couldn't last, every welling tear at the loss of those few snatched moments of joy.

Often Bennett smuggles really rather transgressive behaviour into these pieces under cover of suburban respectability, but, in 2020, Susan's response to her misery seems much more "normal" than other that of other protagonists in the series. Maybe that's a sign that, as a society, we understand much more and judge much less. At least, I hope so.

Alan Bennett's Talking Heads is now on the BBC iPlayer.

Photo BBC/London Theatre Company

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From This Author Gary Naylor