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BWW Review: TALKING HEADS: THE OUTSIDE DOG, BBC iPlayerMarjory hates the dog. She insists on it being kept outside, but its hairs still get on the carpet and that's another hour gone shampooing it down. It's her husband's dog of course, obeys him, but barks nonstop when he's not there - it even licks the abattoir blood off his boots when he's hosing them off in the yard. He's out late at night too, fly-tipping or on some other scam, always with the bloody dog in tow. And when Stuart comes back, all worked up for some reason, well...

Rochenda Sandell gives us a portrait of a frustrated and angry woman, trapped in a misjudged marriage, displacing her hatred for her brutish husband on to his equally brutish dog and furiously cleaning away any sign of their presence the moment they're gone. She stares down the camera, pursed in the lip, hair swept back as tight as it'll go, eyes already at 11, even if her sense of decorum stops her from screaming.

As with one or two other performances in this 2020 revisiting of the classic monologues, you wonder if Sandell has gone too early, given too much away in the first five minutes, leaving insufficient room for character development, but director, Nadia Fall, retains just enough wriggle room to ratchet up the tension as the true nature of Stuart comes to light.

Bennett's script catches the anxieties of Northern lower middle class life (that's Marjory's aspiration and it gnaws away at her that it's still just out of her reach) in his familiar suburban details, especially in the instant judgements she makes. There's nobody comes across her radar without an observation made and filed away, the pecking order recalibrated. God help you if your choice of wallpaper is just that bit too "common".

The script doesn't wholly work though, and wouldn't have even in the 90s. There's a McGuffin sitting in the middle of it that stretches credulity - the punch it offers at the end mitigated by the nagging doubt that it would ever be there in the first place. By the high levels we've come to expect from the series, this rather clumsy device puts this episode in the second rank - watchable, but no classic.

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