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Jodie Comer
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Jodie Comer, Martin Freeman and Maxine Peake to star in a BBC remake of Alan Bennett’s ‘Talking Heads’

By
Chris Waywell
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Alan Bennett’s series of monologues, ‘Talking Heads’, is a genuine TV landmark. First broadcast in 1988, and with a second series appearing in 1998, it broke new ground for television writing, while employing absolutely zero staging, special effects or anything else. It’s small-screen theatre in its purest form. The original series boasted stars such as Maggie Smith and Julie Walters, plus Bennett himself.

Now the BBC has announced that it is making a new version, with some more huge stars, including Jodie Comer from ‘Killing Eve’, Martin Freeman, Tamsin Greig, Maxine Peake and Kristin Scott Thomas.

The new series consists of ten of the original pieces, plus two new ones written by Bennett in 2019. They are being produced by Nicholas Hytner’s London Theatre Company and directed by a roster of top theatre heavyweights, including Hytner, Josie Rourke, Marianne Elliott and Nadia Fall.

There is a clear new resonance for ‘Talking Heads’ in the current lockdown. Bennett’s work explores the inner world of people, their hopes, fears and pretty grievances. It’s full of relatable details and a sense of the common experience of being a person: his characters are part of a wider society, but are always individuals (and sometimes alone) within it. 

Hytner says of the project: ‘It has been a profound and fascinating experience to work out a way of making [‘Talking Heads’] again. Everyone involved has been working in an unprecedented way, rigorously observing social distancing, entirely rethinking ways of filmmaking. The shoot will never bring any of us within touching distance of each other, but I hope that in every other way it will reach out and touch millions of viewers.’

Bennett (whose monologue ‘A Chip in the Sugar’ will be performed by Martin Freeman this time around) adds: ‘In such difficult circumstances, that the BBC should choose to remount both series of “Talking Heads”, and produce two entirely new ones, is a huge compliment. I hope a new generation of actors will get and give as much pleasure as we did 20 and 30 years ago.’

Here’s the full list of the new BBC ‘Talking Heads’ and its stars:

  • Jodie Comer in ‘Her Big Chance’, directed by Josie Rourke
  • Monica Dolan in ‘The Shrine’, directed by Nicholas Hytner
  • Martin Freeman in ‘A Chip in the Sugar’, directed by Jeremy Herrin
  • Tamsin Greig in ‘Nights In The Garden of Spain’, directed by Marianne Elliott
  • Sarah Lancashire in ‘An Ordinary Woman’, directed by Nicholas Hytner
  • Lesley Manville in ‘Bed Among the Lentils’, directed by Nicholas Hytner
  • Lucian Msamati in ‘Playing Sandwiches’, directed by Jeremy Herrin
  • Maxine Peake in ‘Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet’, directed by Sarah Frankcom
  • Rochenda Sandall in ‘The Outside Dog’, directed by Nadia Fall
  • Kristin Scott Thomas in ‘The Hand of God’, directed by Jonathan Kent
  • Imelda Staunton in ‘A Lady of Letters’, directed by Jonathan Kent
  • Harriet Walter in ‘Soldiering On’, directed by Marianne Elliott

‘Talking Heads’ will be broadcast on BBC One over the next few months.

In other great revival news, Jez Butterworth’s ‘Jerusalem’ will return to the London stage in 2021.

The National Theatre is streaming a play for free every week, including Benedict Cumberbatch’s ‘Frankenstein’.

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