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BWW Review: TALKING HEADS: THE SHRINE, BBC iPlayer

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BWW Review: TALKING HEADS: THE SHRINE, BBC iPlayer

BWW Review: TALKING HEADS: THE SHRINE, BBC iPlayerClifford is a birdwatcher who pursues his hobby travelling by motorcycle. "Cliff" is a biker, with an eye for the leathermen, getting his kicks on route A66 (other dual carriageways are available). When he leaves the road and is killed in the incident (the police are quite keen to avoid the word accident), his wife, Lorna, holds a twice weekly vigil at her roadside shrine for Clifford. She meets another woman there, paying her respects to "Cliff" and it dawns on her that she never really knew the man she loved so much.

Monica Dolan treads a very careful line as Lorna, coming close to pathological obsession, but, with a steady eye and non-quivering lip, keeping us on board with the idea that Lorna is grieving in a very specific way. We grant her that right, as she is holding so much back. One blaze of the eyes, one thump of the table and the ordinary person dealing with extraordinary circumstances, the magic on which so many of these monologues turn, would be lost, the scales tilting too far to the neurotic.

What emerges, with director, Nicholas Hytner, keeping a steely grip on the emotional barometer, is a woman who loses not just the man she loved, but the memory of that man, replaced by another. That Clifford-Cliff hybrid is not a bad person and Lorna doesn't judge him, but he is a different one.

She recognises this change in circumstances and that there's a Hollywood ending somewhere, with a living shrine, where people could meet and celebrate biker Cliff. But her husband was twitcher Clifford - and Hollywood doesn't have much call for birdwatchers who were (shall we say) distracted on a tighter than expected bend. (I think we're to assume that Cliff was left-handed).

One of two new pieces in this series, one wonders if Bennett (a keen cyclist himself well into his 80s) isn't reflecting a little on his own life. He never came out to his parents and was in relationships with a man and woman simultaneously in the early 2000s - perhaps there was an Alan and an Al. He's not making excuses nor exorcising guilt, just showing that Lorna's pain on losing her version of her husband, is real and that a double life can resonate long after a single death.

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

Photo BBC/London Theatre Company


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