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TV Review: Playing Sandwiches, Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads – BBC and iPlayer

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer: Alan Bennett

Director: Jeremy Herrin

Of all the Talking Heads, Playing Sandwiches, may be the most chilling. Originally starring David Haig in 1998, but now starring Lucian Msamati, Alan Bennett’s monologue tells the story of a municipal park employee tasked with cleaning up the rubbish that gathers there daily. Wilfred complains about the condoms and the sick that he finds in the bushes most mornings, but eventually these bushes lead to Wilfred’s undoing.

It’s hard to believe that Wilfred is guilty of anything, especially with Msamati’s open, humble face, and confiding tone. He seems harmless – and in a perturbing way, remains harmless – and we are only aware that there may be more to his backstory when Wilfred’s employers can find no evidence of him on the council’s computer. They put it down to technical glitches, but are determined, they say, to get to the bottom of it.

But more unnerving than his ‘lost’ employment details is his interest in a girl that comes to play in the derelict bandstand with her mother. In this age, it’s virtually impossible for any grown man to befriend a child who isn’t his own, and so here alarm bells begin to ring very early on, and, unusually for Bennett, this monologue contains no twists or surprises.

The most shocking part of Playing Sandwiches is how human Wilfred is, portrayed by Msamati as an innocent, not knowing the difference between right and wrong. His soft voice and gentle manner elicit sympathy despite the crimes that he is destined to commit. With such a strong performance, it is remarkable that Msamati, while familiar to theatre audiences, isn’t seen more on television.

Bennett’s two monologues for men haven’t received the same acclaim as those for women and the recording of the banal and absurd once seemed a more feminine quality, perfectly captured in those by Patricia Routledge. But Msamati’s performance suggests that men are just as lonely as Bennett’s bereft women.

Runs here until June 2021

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. 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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