BWW Review: TALKING HEADS: PLAYING SANDWICHES, BBC iPlayer
Playing Sandwiches is certainly one of the darker stories within Alan Bennett's superb Talking Heads series. Written in 1998, this uncomfortable and disturbing piece originally featured David Haig. This update showcases a mesmerising performance by Lucian Msamati as park worker Wilfred Paterson; a seemingly ordinary man, with two very different sides to his character.
Wilfred is a productive member of his community, working hard to keep his local park tidy. While working, he is befriended by Debbie and her young daughter Samantha. He chats to them, plays with Samantha, buys sweets from his local shop. However, things begin to unravel in the most terrible way when he is dismissed by The Parks Department and Debbie asks him to watch Samantha while she goes to an appointment. Wilfred's history returns to haunt him and many others.
Msamati gives a stunning performance as Wilfred. He begins as a genial, friendly and likable man, buying sweets and taking pride in his work to keep the local area clean and tidy. There is then a shift so subtle that it's barely noticeable at first. Wilfred is a challenging character to bring to life, but Msamati is brilliant to watch; holding the attention of the audience while being completely believable in the role.
Bennett is a master at making his audience confront incredibly uncomfortable issues and scenarios. By the end of the piece, we should feel utter distaste, disgust and even hatred towards Wilfred, but while these feelings are inevitably present, we also see the human side to him. Wilfred is not a one-dimensional monster; he is a nice man who acts on terrible impulses.
Perhaps inevitably, Bennett never gives detail of Wilfred's actions, allowing the audience to imagine the horror for themselves. There is no offer of light relief here; no jokes or wry comments. There are mundane observations from Wilfred about Liquorice Allsorts and how he went hiking as a young boy; everyday life inevitably combines with the darkness.
There is a huge amount to fit into 30 minutes; Director Jeremy Herrin maintains the pace without making it feel rushed. There are also some small, but highly effective shifts in the angles of certain shots that are brilliantly done.
Wilfred relates the events of the day when he was asked to look after Samantha; as the horror of the day is revealed, the camera angle descends so Wilfred seems to tower over the camera. He is suddenly dark and menacing. Similarly, in the final scene when Wilfred muses about the planes leaving and arriving at the nearby airport, the camera lifts to shoot him from high, his face to the light, making him appear wistful and almost vulnerable.
Playing Sandwiches is not a comfortable watch, but those that do will be rewarded with an unsettling experience that is also strangely moving.
Alan Bennett's Talking Heads is now on the BBC iPlayer
Photo Credit: BBC/London Theatre Company