WORTH A LOOK?: ****
WHERE?: Bridge Theatre
WHEN?: 1/10/20 (matinee), season runs to 31/10/20 (Imelda Staunton transfers with Maxine Peake to Sheffield Theatres 9-11/11 and Leeds Playhouse 12-14)
The indomitable Patricia Routledge played Irene Ruddock in the original A Lady Of Letters and Staunton’s is quieter but no less successful.
- Read on for reasons including how this role underlines Staunton’s versatility
We had tickets to see her star in classic musical Hello Dolly at the Adelphi Theatre this summer and instead we’re watching her in something very different.
Staunton won our Best Theatre Actress monsta in 2017 for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and this once again underlines the dramatic versatility of an actress equally happy in musical theatre (Follies, National Theatre, Gypsy, Savoy Theatre).
Her Gypsy director Jonathan Kent is doing the honours here and the hard work and dedication to quality she brings to everything she does that was evident in a recent Q&A with her is present here.
Irene writes letters to expose the injustices she sees all around her and unfortunately rather than being welcome interventions she often misinterprets what she is seeing.
Once again the comedy in Bennett’s writing is in the minute details: Irene’s annoyance with her neighbours wrapped up in her observation that they ‘don’t have a cloth on’, her suspicion of a young would-be vicar out of a dog collar only allayed when she spots his bicycle clips.
Irene’s freedom only comes when she is imprisoned and we share her giddy joy as she finds a role her administrative skills are appreciated in that not even her past can muddy.
Lucian Msamati is a fine actor but less successful is Bennett’s Playing Sandwiches during which we meet his park keeper Wilfred who we come to fear has a past which is about to be uncovered to ruin his happy present.
Bennett writes thwarted women best and, as we get to know Wilfred better, the reasons for his actions are not as fully covered as they may have been if his gender was different.
It’s a correction Bennett seems to have realised in new monologue An Ordinary Woman which appeared in this year’s BBC1 refresh of the series and was performed by Sarah Lancashire.
The revival of Talking Heads has been an unexpected consequence of COVID-19 but the nagging feeling remains that it is most successful as a celebration of the past rather than an attempt to do something bold and forward-looking.