While it’s been an incredibly difficult few months for us all, the Covid-19 lockdown has seen some brilliant, creative TV series being made. The latest is a revival of a hit show which first aired in 1988 and 1998 – Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads.
The Leeds-born actor and writer won awards and critical acclaim for the tales – which reveal the innermost thoughts of an individual to audiences – and they’ve since moved to radio and theatre. Now, 10 of the original monologues have been remade for TV, plus two new pieces which 86-year-old Bennett wrote last year.
The contained nature of the stories meant they could be easily filmed following the latest government guidelines on safe working practices during the coronavirus pandemic.
And, with an all-star cast, it shows how some classic television can still be made during the ongoing pandemic – and much of the filming took place on the EastEnders set. That cast includes Killing Eve star Jodie Comer – who was surprised by the atmosphere on what is normally Albert Square.
“The biggest adjustment was the stillness,” she explained. “Usually on set there is a lot of chaos and noise, but as there were less people on set due to social distancing rules, it was very peaceful. That took some getting used to. Normally you have to zone yourself out of the noise to focus, but it was so quiet, which threw me off balance to begin with.
“Alan’s monologues are simply fantastic and I jumped at the chance to bring Lesley, my character, to life. It was also a great opportunity to meet Josie Rourke (director) and work with her on this piece. I thought it was a wonderful idea from the BBC to bring audiences new content at this time, and I was itching to get off my sofa and do something creative.”
For Martin Freeman, star of The Office and Sherlock, the socially-distanced set was a culture shock.
“On the day of shooting it was very weird to keep distance from people; my world is normally quite tactile, as people probably guess!” he said. “So not even shaking hands with people was odd. I brought in a load of clothes and was presented with some other choices in the morning. Doing my own make-up was all right, though I’m hardly an expert; luckily, for Graham, ‘less is more’.
“The filming itself was OK, everyone was doing their best to maintain the distancing rules, as you’d expect. That was being taken very seriously. I was in Dot Cotton’s bedroom, so that’s one thing ticked off the bucket list…”
Talking Heads, Tue, BBC1, 9.30pm.
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