Thursday 15 November 2018

Drama is back in RTE's drama department

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Hide And Seek (RTE1) Leargas (RTE1) AFTER the second part of Hide And Seek, it's pretty clear that we are watching high-class stuff.

The outcome of the RTE drama is still disturbingly unclear, which of course is how it should be.

The story is simple enough, but scary in the extreme. A father suffers some sort of a breakdown triggered by recurring nightmares about a childhood drowning accident which he witnessed. In this state, he goes missing with his young son. And in episode two, they cruise down the Shannon towards the west, incommunicado, while the man's wife and other family members, increasingly mad with fear, try to find them.

There are many outstanding elements in this production, most obviously the performances of Michael McElhatton and Maria Doyle Kennedy as the husband and wife. Having introduced the world to the character of Rats in Paths To Freedom, it is fair to say that McElhatton has what actors call "range".

Here he has to enlist the viewers' sympathy for a character, Paul Holden, who is also scaring them to death. He is basically a good man doing a very bad thing, which of course is a more difficult part to play, than a bad man doing a bad thing.

Worse, he is a good parent who may be about to do something very bad to his own child . . . is it possible ? We must wait and see.

But McElhatton is backed up by a production of real originality and power, written by Ted Gannon, directed by Dearbhla Walsh. There is water everywhere, with the mutinous waves of the Shannon deeply menacing, and what looks like the bridge of Athlone serving as the backdrop to a jaw-dropping scene in which the cruiser floats by in the fog, with no one on board.

We were left with this cliffhanger last week, this stunning evocation of the Marie Celeste. And if

you're that way inclined, you could make a symbolic connection between the bridge as the gateway to the wildness of the west, and the way in which Paul Holden is crossing the line into dangerous madness.

The pictures tell the story more than the dialogue, which makes this almost unique in Irish TV drama. In fact, aspects of the plot might have been nailed down to better effect in the more conventional way, but we get too much of that formulaic stuff anyway. And soon we realise that this is a seriously ambitious piece of work, which is far better than it needs to be, in that formulaic context.

Of course we have actually seen the waterways of Ireland filmed with such panache, in those classic Dick Warner programmes. I recall Warner's vision

of the river at Athlone, which made the midlands town look like a slightly more mysterious and attractive version of Venice.

But in Waterways a man was cruising down the river to let nature bring a bit of balance back into his life, in Hide And Seek a

man is cruising down the river and losing whatever balance he had.

Dick Warner was thinking great thoughts, Paul Holden is thinking the unthinkable.

And on a broader level, Hide And Seek makes you think of those terrifying Irish stories of recent years, in which a parent and a child went missing, the parent having somehow lost the balance of his mind, for reasons which no one could fathom.

Hide and Seek makes you think of things you don't want to think about, ever.

THERE was danger too, amid the pictures of beautiful county Sligo, in a Leargas feature on Andy "The Bull" McSharry.

The Bull is the scourge of hillwalking types, who think they can tramp across his land as if it was theirs. It has become his life, this struggle against the ramblers.

He has done time for

it, and his jeep is emblazoned with the legend, "The Bull" McSharry.

Of course there are principles at stake here, which are beyond money. But money would help too. In fact money in sufficient quantities, would probably sort it all out.

Until then The Bull can be seen hammering at barbed wire fences, a man with a cause.

And the hillwalkers may talk about their ancient rights of way, but Leargas viewers got these superb views of Ben Bulben and the like, without feeling the need to go there on a Sunday afternoon and annoy The Bull, who would surely prefer to be watching a massive, massive game on Sky, followed swiftly by Celebrity Jigs And Reels.

What are they doing anyway, walking up hills? What's all that about?

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