Wednesday 15 August 2018

'There's a lot of dark stuff and some really meaty storylines' - Fair City series consultant Sam Atwell on Christmas episodes

Fair City Thursday, 21st December 2017 Oakley works to take over the group. Miriam - Sorcha Fox
Oakley - Marcus Lamb
Fair City Thursday, 21st December 2017 Oakley works to take over the group. Miriam - Sorcha Fox Oakley - Marcus Lamb
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

A baby daddy dilemma, child custody issues, and karaoke - Fair City's Christmas storylines are a fair reflection of what's happening in homes across Ireland this festive season.

Throw a twisted doctor with a penchant for poison into the Carrigstown mix and you know you're in for an interesting ride.

Recent weeks have seen Dr Oakley exacting his insidious plot to take down Miriam while the Kerri Ann/Mondo/Decco love triangle has escalated and Damian and Caoimhe drift further apart over the baby.

The coming week promises revelations, confrontations, and more.

"We've a lot of parties and a lot of secrets coming out, a lot of awkward situations, and a lot of relationships coming to a head," says series consultant Sam Atwell.

"It's basically like every house in Ireland at Christmas!

"Carmel Callan wrote the Christmas special and it's a cracker.  When we were talking about it we kept going, 'Let's go mad, let's have more fun, more mayhem.'  There's even karaoke in there. 

"There's a lot of dark stuff and some really meaty storylines as well, new announcements, a bit of romance, kind of a bit of everything.   Lots of things come to a head and those issues will push on into the new year."

While Atwell is unsurprisingly vague on specifics, it's no secret that Kerri-Ann (Jenny Bishop) will face a dilemma when she finds out she's pregnant. 

The storyline which is likely to resonate most with viewers at Christmas, however, may well be the increasing tension between Damien (Maclean Burke) and Caoimhe (Aoibheann McCaul) as she withdraws with the baby.

"We always aim to have a balance between fun and heartbreaking stuff and emotional stuff and I think those guys are absolutely playing a blinder and so they can handle a really meaty story like that," says Sam.

"It is emotionally challenging and I think Mac is really pushing that character to the edge and while he's kind of pushed to the edge you can kind of sympathise with him because he just wants to see his child. 

"And with Caoimhe you can sympathise with her too because she's feeling like her child is somewhat in danger with someone who is going off the deep end.  It's a divisive story and people will fall on one side of the other even if they do understand both."

While the soaps' Christmas storylines tend to be the most dramatic of the year, this year the focus at the RTE soap is unsurprisingly on the intimate relationships between characters rather than big budget action stories.

Although you might expect them to have one beady eye on what the competition has in store, for Atwell it's more about focusing on their own game plan.

"For me I always try to focus on what we're doing ourselves because, weirdly, what happens, and it happens a lot of soaps around the world, is you think you've got this amazing, innovative storyline and then you find out another soap is doing it," he says.

"They're the kinds of stories that are just in the social consciousness and there seems to be strange crossovers between soaps because of that. 

"We try to keep it topical and the beauty of working with a show like this is that we can look at what's going on in society and reflect that. 

"It's kind of looking at what's happening in society and what's in the news and on people's minds and how does that relate to a suburb of Dublin called Carrigstown and the people in our show.  We don't try to do 'issue' stories, or impose issues on stories, but they will come through naturally."

Atwell has compared TV to theatre in that TV shows now have an immediate reaction via social media, particularly Twitter.  He says they do take on board reactions to the soap shared by viewers.

"Like anything you need a bit of a thick skin [to read them] but obviously the show is there for our fanbase and we always try to increase that and listen to our fans," he says.

"We wouldn't have a show unless we did that.  We do a lot of research and market surveys on what's working and what isn't.  We have to in a way."

On Fair City a rough outline of storylines is planned 18 months in advance and the finer details of the upcoming festive episodes were being ironed way back in June this year.

"Right now we're looking at storylines for June and July next year so it's a bit like living in a time machine!" says Atwell, who previously starred in Aussie soap Home and Away before moving to Ireland to work on Fair City.

"It works for me because when we're planning our Christmas episodes it's the middle of summer which is really odd for everyone else but makes perfect sense for me as an Australian!"

Fair City will air an hour long special on Christmas Day with more episodes on December 27, 28 and New Year's Eve, December 31.

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