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Jodie Comer and Martin Freeman among stars of new productions of Talking Heads

The BBC will revisit Alan Bennett’s famous monologues and two new ones.

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Jodie Comer and Martin Freeman (PA)

Jodie Comer and Martin Freeman (PA)

Jodie Comer and Martin Freeman (PA)

Jodie Comer, Martin Freeman and Sarah Lancashire will be among the stars of new productions of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads monologues, the BBC has announced.

Monica Dolan, Tamsin Greig, Lesley Manville, Lucian Msamati, Maxine Peake, Rochenda Sandall, Kristin Scott Thomas, Imelda Staunton and Dame Harriet Walter will also appear when 10 of the original pieces are remade, with the addition of two new ones written by Bennett last year.

Filming begins on Tuesday and the contained nature of the monologues mean they can be filmed while following the latest Government guidelines on safe working practices during the coronavirus outbreak, the corporation said.

The Talking Heads monologues first aired on the BBC in 1988 and 1998 and boasted a cast including Dame Patricia Routledge, Dame Maggie Smith, Stephanie Cole, Dame Julie Walters, Dame Thora Hird, Dame Eileen Atkins, David Haig and Dame Penelope Wilton, alongside Bennett himself.

The monologues won two Baftas, an RTS award and have also since been included on the A-level and GCSE English Literature syllabus.

Bennett said: “In such difficult circumstances, that the BBC should choose to remount both series of Talking Heads, and produce two entirely new ones, is a comfort and 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.”

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Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads monologues are being remade in 2020 (Ian West/PA)

Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads monologues are being remade in 2020 (Ian West/PA)

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Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads monologues are being remade in 2020 (Ian West/PA)

The monologues will be produced by Nicholas Hytner’s London Theatre Company and Kevin Loader and will air in the coming months on BBC One.

Hytner, who is Bennett’s long-term collaborator and will serve as lead director, added: “Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads are among the masterworks of one of the very greatest writers in TV, film and theatre history.

“It has been a profound and fascinating experience to work out a way of making them again, this time with a company of phenomenal actors who are the equal of those who first made them; with a group of leading theatre directors, colleagues and friends of long standing; and with a team behind the camera that represents the best of the British TV and film industries.

“It is a wonderful bonus that two of the 2020 Talking Heads are totally new, written only a short time before the current crisis began.

“Everyone involved has been working in an unprecedented way, rigorously observing social distancing, entirely rethinking ways of filmmaking that until a few weeks ago seemed routine.

“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.

“We are all of us beyond grateful to the BBC for setting us this challenge.”

Filming will take place at BBC Elstree Studios using existing sets and will see Comer revisit 1988’s Her Big Chance, Freeman will deliver A Chip In The Sugar and Manville will perform Bed Among The Lentils.

Dolan will star in a new monologue, called The Shrine, while Lancashire will also deliver a new work, called An Ordinary Woman.

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Sarah Lancashire will perform one of the new monologues (Matt Crossick/PA)

Sarah Lancashire will perform one of the new monologues (Matt Crossick/PA)

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Sarah Lancashire will perform one of the new monologues (Matt Crossick/PA)

Piers Wenger, controller of BBC Drama, said: “Covid-19 has laid waste to drama production in the UK, but it has also posed a challenge: how do we adhere to restrictions while still offering British viewers the chance to lose themselves in great stories at this time of national need?

“Full of insight, wit, daring and compassion, these are stories of individual lives – but of great resonance.

“I am so grateful to Alan, Nicholas Hytner, Kevin Loader and the whole team for the caution, ingenuity and wisdom which they have shown in bringing these stories to the screen.”

PA