Paul T Davies reviews Alan Bennett’s The Outside Dog starring Rochenda Sandall as part of the Talking Heads season on BBC iPlayer.
The Outside Dog.
Streaming now on BBC iPlayer
If you listen carefully to the Talking Heads monologues, you often hear a dog barking in the streets that the characters look out on. Most of them have a low opinion of these “lamppost smelling articles”, but the closest any of them get to being in the home is Tina, the dog hated by Marjory, who insists her husband, Stuart, keeps outside. Even then, it’s only Stuart who loves the dog, Marjory’s cleaning regime being somewhat OCD. Stuart starts taking Tina for long nighttime walks, putting his clothes in the wash, coming to bed naked and carrying on. All this as women are being killed in their area, and it’s not long before the police arrest him.
It’s one of the darkest of Bennett’s series, as Marjory pieces together Stuart’s guilt by finding his blood-stained clothing when she takes a chance to clean the outside kennel. Gradually we see how trapped she is, not just by her cleaning obsession, but by her marriage, and Stuart is found not guilty and she is too terrified to say anything. When the dog is moved into the bedroom, we feel her fate is sealed. Rochenda Sandall is excellent as Marjory, not a particularly likeable woman, but one whose structures keep her going. The terror in her eyes, the pleading she gives the camera, makes this a disturbing piece, and she conveys perfectly the complexity of a woman who we should be angry with for hiding evidence, but urging her to get out of the prison she is in.
Nadia Fall directs with understated drama, this does feel very much like a confessional, Marjory’s guilt and anxiety explain itself. It’s interesting how the second series of Talking Heads, of which this was originally an episode, was so much darker than the first ten years earlier. Not easy viewing sometimes, but these remakes feature acting of the highest order, and it’s refreshing to see long scenes that take their time to develop.