Saturday 3 December 2016

Review: Those expecting slick production values in RTE's Clean Break might be underwhelmed

Published 27/09/2015 | 22:39

Dermot Murphy, who plays Snowy, Kellie Thornton who plays Corinna Mallon and Amybeth McNulty, who plays Jenny Raine, at the preview showing of RTÉ’s new drama Clean Break at the IFI in Temple Bar
Dermot Murphy, who plays Snowy, Kellie Thornton who plays Corinna Mallon and Amybeth McNulty, who plays Jenny Raine, at the preview showing of RTÉ’s new drama Clean Break at the IFI in Temple Bar

Airing in the same Sunday night time slot as Love/Hate, RTE's new crime caper has been heralded as spiritual successor to its top rating cops and robbers romp.

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But those who tuned in expecting gunfights, lusty expletives and slick production values may have been underwhelmed. Instead, Clean Break harked back to an older class of small town drama, with a dollop of stylised violence applied almost as afterthought.

The script is by playwright Billy Roche and at moments the self-consciously ripe dialogue ("why don't you f*** off out of here before I get the dogs on yeah" etc ) and stagey framing gave Clean Break the aspect of something you might catch in revival at The Abbey.

With contemporary Wexford as backdrop we were far from Dublin's badlands and back in the semi-mythic quasi-rural Ireland so beloved of theatre: a place where everybody knows everyone else (no matter that this isn't at all the dynamic of actual Irish market towns) and no grudge or grievance goes unforgotten.

Dermot Murphy, who plays Snowy, Kellie Thornton who plays Corinna Mallon and Amybeth McNulty, who plays Jenny Raine, at the preview showing of RTÉ’s new drama Clean Break at the IFI in Temple Bar
Dermot Murphy, who plays Snowy, Kellie Thornton who plays Corinna Mallon and Amybeth McNulty, who plays Jenny Raine, at the preview showing of RTÉ’s new drama Clean Break at the IFI in Temple Bar

Read more: Tiger kidnap drama takes 'Love/Hate' slot

Lifting much of its structure from the Coen brothers' Fargo, Clean Break chronicled the travails of financially-challenged car dealer Frank (Adam Fergus), a slippery fellow in a financial bind and not having much joy with his local bank manager Dessie (Aidan McArdle). Then, maybe Dessie had his own motives for giving Frank a hard time as his wife Annette (Simone Kirby) appeared to have a history with the other man (in her youth she was a good-time girl – for which we were tacitly invited to stand in judgement over her).

The flash-point of the first episode was the "tiger" kidnapping of Dessie and family orchestrated by Frank and some hired goons (including Damien Molony as conflicted boxer Danny) in order to save his business (Dessie was threatening foreclosure).

The scenes of masked raiders breaking into Dessie's home and tossing his kids in the back of a van were unquestionably chilling but arrived at the end of a first episode determined to talk the viewer into a stupor.

With Love/Hate RTE learned that audiences would respond to drama with a pulse – alas, Clean Break has aspirations beyond action-packed escapism and, judged by the first of four dispatches, that may be to its ultimate detriment.

Read Pat Stacey's review: Clean Break 'puts plenty of clear water between it and Stuart Carolan’s Dublin gangland saga Love/Hate'  

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