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The Shrine, Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads – BBC and iPlayer

Reviewer: Stephen Bates

 Writer: Alan Bennett

Director: Nicholas Hytner

For the final time in this 2020 series of monologues, Alan Bennett invites us to peek behind the lace curtains and Venetian blinds of a seemingly ordinary Yorkshire home. If there is a common theme running through these mini plays, it is loneliness, so it is perhaps surprising that Bennett has left it until the very last one to explore one of the most common causes of that condition, bereavement.

In this brand new piece, 2019 Olivier Award winner Monica Dolan plays Lorna, a woman confronted with the sudden loss of her husband Clifford in a motorcycle accident. He had crashed against a tree “on the other side of Selby” and the only likely witness was a sheep. Lorna visits the spot and then returns daily, bearing flowers and laying bubble wrap on the skid marks to protect them from the elements.

Over time, Lorna discovers that Clifford had a secret life as “Cliff”, member of the bikers’ fraternity, but this is not a Jekyll and Hyde story and there are no devastating revelations, as seen in some Talking Heads episodes. Cliff’s worst sin had been to discard the avocado sandwiches lovingly prepared by Lorna in favour of a bacon butty. Bennett is making the point that no one ever knows another person completely, not even the one most loved, as he concerns himself with the commonality of the journey through grieving – obsessing over the minutiae of shared experiences, clinging on irrationally to token reminders.

There are shards of typically cutting Bennett humour, but, mainly, the writer is respectful of Lorna’s grief and, correspondingly, director Nicholas Hytner’s production has a gentle and affectionate tone. Dolan, stoical and dignified in her dimly-lit sitting room or kitchen, leaves no question of doubt about Lorna’s deep devotion to Clifford. Only towards the end are there clear signs that she is beginning to heal.

Available here until June 2021

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Gentle and affectionate

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The Reviews Hub London is under the editorship of John Roberts.The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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