Sunday 25 August 2019

Television review: The Midlands Set are coming

  • Nowhere Fast (RTE2)

Alison Spittle stars in RTE comedy 'Nowhere Fast'
Alison Spittle stars in RTE comedy 'Nowhere Fast'
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

I'm always pleased to see my fellow Westmeath people doing well, especially when they're good, like Alison Spittle. Appearing on The Late Late Show to mark the success of her comedy series Nowhere Fast, she explained that she is from Ballymore, which I would have passed through many times on my way from Athlone to Mullingar, never imagining that one day these places might inspire a series about how maddening life can be there, compared to all the great things that happen in the Dublin media.

Coincidentally the word came through during the week that Niall Horan from Mullingar had won an American Music Award, and of course Bressie is always winning. Aside from the normal feelings of solidarity I have with these people, I think we need to do something now about branding ourselves, maybe calling ourselves a "set" - the Midlands Set, I admit, does not quite have the strange magic of the Bloomsbury Set, but sure, we'll get on with it anyway.

Indeed, it is actually ridiculous that a small town in the midlands has never before been the situation for a comedy of this kind, given that there have been long-standing issues in this part of the world about the occasional difficulties you might encounter in trying to pass the time in a constructive manner.

This wouldn't apply to Athlone now, of course, which is more or less a city these days, but in places that are smaller and not as exciting as Athlone, you can have what those people in the Dublin media might call "longueurs".

I can vouch for the fact that Nowhere Fast captures the atmosphere of such a place with a real sensitivity, with the main character Alison Spittle, or "Angela", torn between her affection for her friends and family and their ancient way of life, and her desire to get back to where she was in the lower regions of the Dublin media - she only found herself back home, after she inadvertently, if accurately, slandered some famous personality on the air, thus destroying her life.

The acting is really tremendous from, among others, Cathy Belton, Clare Monnelly and Mark Doherty, who seem to be able to establish about 99pc of a character's personality in the first 20 seconds. But as they say at the track, you can't come without the horse, so the writing of Spittle and Simon Mulholland is obviously doing them no harm either.

Intriguingly, I sense there may be an international future too, in this journey of Alison Spittle's from the midlands to Dublin and back again. On The Late Late Show she talked about her father who is English, and as regular readers will know, I have demonstrated beyond all doubt that for an Irish person to achieve some sort of international success, it is enormously helpful if there is an unIrish dimension of some kind. For example, without looking beyond Westmeath, we can see that Niall Horan was enabled to a certain extent by Simon Cowell and the other unIrish lads in One Direction.

But the general truth of it, down through the years, is overwhelming, from the obvious examples of Jack Charlton's teams representing the Republic, to members of U2 with English and Welsh parents, to The Pogues with their London-Irishness, to Father Ted which was done by Channel 4 not RTE, and other examples that are literally far too numerous to mention. So for Spittle to have an actual English father must give her a serious chance here - Katie Taylor, of course, has a similar advantage. And it comes as no surprise that Spittle's fellow TV comedy writer Stefanie Preissner's father is German.

So it is self-evident that Preissner must have a serious chance too, of an international break. But I'd like to think that both of them will get there, for their own sake, and to demonstrate yet again the virtual infallibility of this law of Irish nature.

If you were to force me to pick one of them over the other though, I'd have to go with the Spittler. I know where she's coming from…

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