WORTH A LOOK?: ****1/2
WHERE?: Bridge Theatre
Miss Fozzard is the funniest of the 2nd run of Talking Heads premiered on BBC1 in 1998 and here Peake makes the most of every line.
- Read on for reasons including how Greig’s character is another of Bennett’s thwarted women
She’s big shoes to fill as the original Miss Fozzard was played by Patricia Routledge but, directed by Sarah Frankcom, Peake (The Welkin, National Theatre) may initially be naive but we see her grow and, by this hilarious monologue’s finish, we’ve no doubt that she’s fully aware of her actions.
Our story begins with our titular heroine bidding farewell to her chiropodist who doesn’t ‘like to think of your feet falling into the wrong hands’.
Offered a male or female choice she muses: ‘Cindy? That doesn’t inspire confidence. She sounds as though she should be painting nails not cutting them.’
We learn she lives with a brother who’s had a stroke and who she is teaching to speak by recounting the highlights of her day which illicit a yawn and then, hilariously, the first word (‘cow’) from him.
When she meets her new chiropodist, an older, apparently refined gentleman called Mr Dunderdale, he explains his choice of profession thus: ‘So I could kneel at the feet of a thousand women and my wife wouldn’t turn a hair.’
He starts gifting Miss Fozzard footwear and asking her to walk on his lower back to alleviate a pain he has there. ‘Now, if those wellingtons are comfy, I’d just like you, in your own time, and, as slowly as you’d like, to very gently mark time on my bottom.’
Bennett draws a parallel between this relationship and her brother’s increasing friendship with his new carer who Miss Fozzard observes later in the piece are ‘both a bit red in the face’, while her brother, recovering his speech, accuses Miss Fozzard of ‘monkeying about with your foot fella’.
Peake’s hugely comic performance is the perfect mix of lingering over and savouring the best lines yet comically speeding up when she has something slightly uncomfortable to impart.
Her final line neatly encompasses the advice her brother has been given when he is struggling to say a word and her new found life experience: ‘I suppose there’s a word for what I’m doing but I skirt around it.’
Less successful is Tamsin Greig’s (Labour of Love, Noel Coward Theatre, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide To Capitalism and Socialism , Hampstead Theatre) but only because it’s far less funny and once again portrays a woman thwarted by her husband.
Marianne Elliott directs 1998’s Nights In The Gardens Of Spain, previously performed by Penelope Wilton, where we meet Greig’s Mrs Horrocks who is the 1st neighbour on the scene when a woman shoots her husband to death.
She says: ‘He was lying on his back on the rug. One of those fleecy, hairy things with blood and whatnot coming from somewhere behind his head. It’s awful because the first thing I thought was: ‘Well, she’ll never get that out.’
We learn that the neighbour, Fran, murdered her husband after he inflicted injuries on her while sexually abusing her in front of silent onlookers while she was hooded.
Mrs Horrocks begins to suspect that her husband was one of the onlookers and, after Fran is jailed, an unlikely friendship blooms between the women.
Her tragedy is that she recognises that she should’ve packed her bags and left her husband when he says something insensitive about Fran yet still realises, although some plants can flower in the shade, ‘give them a bit of sun and they come into their own’.