Alan Bennett’s much-loved Talking Heads monologues once again return to their geographical home, touring the local area and concluding their run in the Courtyard Theatre where LEO OWEN caught the show

Performing the six monologues of Alan Bennett’s original BBC Talking Heads volume across 28 Leeds postcodes, including Seacroft flats, houses in Middleton and Boston Spa, Green Acres Nursing Home and Headingley Stadium, The West Yorkshire Playhouse seek to celebrate and further cement community relationships. Concluding the mini tour in their very own Courtyard Theatre and the 29th postcode, Directors James Brining, Amy Leach and John R. Wilkinson say a fond farewell to the venue before its revamp with two different shows, including three of the six monologues in each.

Opening tonight with A Bed Among the Lentils, Laura Ann Price’s set design is an ingeniously simple revolving block, including the interior of a generic house and an outdoor billboard for exterior scenes. Clearly floundering in an unhappy marriage, Susan (Cate Hamer) wittily recounts her daily rounds as a vicar’s wife from organising flower arranging competitions to “meals on wheels” deliveries. Her fast-talking unexpected musings are ladled with sarcastic humour and snide remarks, audibly appreciated by the audience. Regular trips to her favourite corner shop seem to be her only respite, resulting in her monologue becoming progressively more moving.

Self-righteous “Curtain twitcher” Irene (Vanessa Rosenthal) lives alone, engulfed by the loneliness of age as she spies on her neighbours, concocting preposterous reasons for writing complaint letters. Through her monologue, Bennett clearly illustrates the challenges that societal changes pose for elderly residents while commenting on institutionalism and the prison system. While Irene’s prejudices, intolerance and snobbery make her the least likable of the trio, she is the only of Bennett’s characters to change and escape her self-made ideological prison to genuinely become a nicer person.

This evening’s show bleakly concludes with 85-year-old Doris (Marlene Sidaway)’s monologue. An OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) suffering widow, Doris describes her functional marriage to Wilfred and the heart-breaking story of her stillborn baby. Doris’ universal tale of the loneliness, marginalisation and the frustrations of old age is likely to resonant the most as she’d rather die in her own home than be admitted to the dreaded “Stafford House”, an old people’s home regularly mentioned by her cleaner, Zulema. Unlike other monologues, hers features two minor interactions with unseen characters and is lathered in irony.

BSL signed, Talking Heads is packed with very believable everyday characters, faultless performances and plenty of laughs, despite each monologues’ poignant undertones. The enduring appeal of Bennett’s monologues almost thirty years after their inception comes from his sharp character observations and timeless universal themes, best illustrated by the performance’s steady wave of appreciative snorts. The show’s only fault? Ending with Doris’ particularly tragic monologue sees the audience leaving on a low.

Talking Heads showed at The West Yorkshire Playhouse June 15-23: