Paul T Davies reviews Jodie Comer in Her Big Chance, part of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads now streaming on BBC iPlayer.
Talking Heads: Her Big Chance.
Streaming now on BBC iPlayer.
One of the dangers of reworking classic television plays, and some of the wariness about revisiting them as a viewer, is that the original can be so loved that it’s hard to get the first performance out of your head. This series of Talking Heads has been a joy in that very performer stands alongside the original performance, and a few, (especially Tamsin Grieg and Martin Freeman, in my opinion), have made them their own. Her Big Chance is the only one in which I feel I can hear the original performer, Julie Walters, in the text and speech patterns. This is for two reasons, one is that the piece was obviously written with Walters in mind, and the second is because of my mild obsession with this particular monologue, one of Bennett’s best and one I can quote from with ease.
That is to take nothing away from Jodie Comer’s performance as Lesley, an actress who prides herself on her professionalism, even if it’s just a walk-on, has worked with Roman Polanski on Tess, (playing Chloe, the one on the back of a cart), and now gets a part which she hopes will make her famous. What we see is that it’s more likely to make her infamous, because it’s clearly a very low budget soft porn film, which will be initially released in Germany and possibly Turkey. Lesley wonders why she is always cast as the “good time girl”, and she sleeps with different men, especially ones most likely to NOT further her career, such is her naivety and desire for success.
What has changed since the first screening is, of course, the #MeToo movement, and the insistence of men like Spud that they are not out to just sleep with Lesley, (“I’ve got a son in hotel management and a daughter with one kidney” says Spud, persuading her he is not that kind of man), although still amusing, seem even sleazier now. And that gives this revival a fresh feel, Comer, if anything, brings out Lesley’s vulnerability even more. Josie Rourke’s direction keeps a bit of distance, the first scene is shot through a window, and I feel that keeps us away from the character a bit. Then again, we don’t get to see the “real” Lesley, she is always performing, the real her being revealed in fleeting sad, shameful glances to the camera. If this sounds dour, it’s also classic comedy, and my favourite lines, including “Don’t talk to me about orange nylon, I was once on a jury that sentenced Richard Attenborough to death!”, still ring with comedy, even if you shake your head a little at Lesley’s pursuit of fame. She would probably go down the reality TV route now and risk even more.