The Bridge is currently staging so many monologues in its socially distanced rep season – they must account for about half of the plays in London at the moment – that it’s easy to overlook the fact there’s a season within a season. ‘The Outside Dog’ and the ‘Hand of God’ make up one of four double-bills of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads monologues, wherein some of the best actors in the country reprise their roles from the Bridge-produced telly versions that ran on the Beeb over the summer.
To be honest I never totally rated Bennett’s 1998 second series, which at the time felt sillier and crueller than the poignant 1989 original incarnation. But this pair of ’98 revivals find the bittersweet humanity in Bennett’s wit, and if it’s at the expense of a few laughs it totally feels worth it.
In Nadia Fall’s revival of ‘The Outside Dog’, rising star Rochenda Sandall plays Marjory, a woman whose vocal scorn for her husband and his late-night dog-walking antics gradually morphs into something more desperate, as she begins to suspect her he might be a local serial killer. It’s a fine performance: increasingly emotional as her facade of haughty disdain for her husband cracks and reveals something much more complicated – fear both of him and for him. It’s earthier and more emotional than Julie Walters’s original BBC2 turn, in which Marjory came across as a prissy neat-freak getting a form of comeuppance – Sandall’s Marjory is much more relatable, Fall’s production more serious.
Inevitably the real treat here is big-name Kristin Scott Thomas, in Jonathan Kent’s take on ‘The Hand of God’. She’s a joy and then a heartbreak as Celia, a snooty provincial antiques dealer who inveigles her way into the treasure-stuffed home of a dying old lady, with a fairly obvious – albeit possibly not to herself – plan to inherit some of the old dear’s valuables. Without spoilering, it would be fair to say she gets her comeuppance – but Scott Thomas’s gear shift from smug to devastated is just sublime. Celia tries to carry on as if she’s not bothered after she’s turned into a laughing stock – but it is agonisingly apparent that she has collapsed inside, her veneer of professionalism really all that she had in this world. It almost feels like we should be settling for second-tier work at the moment, but this is genuinely the best I’ve ever seen Scott-Thomas.
Indeed, a monologue season in the social distancing era has the unsexy air of expediency to it – but these plays were clearly due a reappraisal, and if the grim events of 2020 have helped them get one, then that’s a tiny silver lining right there.