Saturday 24 February 2018

Last night’s TV: Seven Dwarves

Diarmuid Doyle was touched by the first installment of what has the makings of a very good series.

Life as a performing dwarf was best summed up by Max Laird, one of the seven dwarves featured in Channel 4’s documentary series of the same name. "You get seven dwarves in, whack ‘em on stage, give ‘em a couple of lines, we’ve done the old hi ho shit, and then just gone off".

Max’s stream of consciousness reflects the ambivalence he feels towards being a smaller person (he’s 4ft 2ins), particularly one who has turned up 12 years in a row in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

While bemoaning the fact that people stare at him in the street every day, and one in ten make a comment about him, he wants to be an actor – a proper actor, not just one who rolls around a stage at Christmas time – and is prepared to undergo any humiliation to achieve his dream.

In one scene last night, he is seen playing golf with his father, a normal-sized businessman from Surrey who loves his son but who wants him to work at something everybody can respect.

His last acting job, Max tells him, was playing a gum in an ad for mouthwash. His father visibly blanches, but says nothing.

There was no such reticence from Max’s twin sister, normal-sized too, who, in the course of a short conversation in a wine bar, told him that she didn’t like what he did, didn’t believe that it was acting, was embarrassed by it, didn’t like that people called him a dwarf and did think he could do better.

It was as devastating a critique as anyone could get from a family member, but Max took it all in his stride, better than most people, short or tall, would have. He has a very strong belief in his own abilities as an actor and in the possibility that he can get a decent role outside of panto. Criticism washes over him.

For the purposes of Seven Dwarves, Max has moved in with six other cast members from the Snow White panto (guess which six). One of them is his girlfriend Karen, whom he met during a previous panto.

He did have relationships with normal-sized people in the past, but these went nowhere. According to his friend Ollie, those women only went out with him so that they could say “they slept with a dwarf”.

Over the coming weeks, Seven Dwarves will tell the story of all the people in the house, and if they are even half as interesting as Max, it should make for a very good series.

“We are typecast, obviously”, he says at one point, and his participation in the programme seems to be partly based on getting those people who stare and make comments to look again, and to see that there is a living, breathing, thinking, feeling human being there, as well as a small one. Hopefully, he’ll succeed.

The One Show (BBC1) also looked at how appearances can be deceptive, focusing on how the hoodie has come to be perceived as the uniform of your local thug and hooligan.

Hoodies were the apparel of choice for many of the rioters who recently tore up London and other British cities. Some people now say they should be banned.

The show sent a 64-year-old male staff member onto the streets to ask strangers if they could tell him the time. He was wearing a t-shirt.

Everybody helped him, but when he went out again, this time wearing a hoodie, they ran away from him, literally in some cases. When asked why they had avoided this sweet, harmless 64-year-old, they all said it was because he looked like he was up to no good.

The show never got to the bottom of whether there is something in the design of the hoodie which gives it its air of danger or whether it has acquired its menace because of the people who wear it. Either way, it’s in dire need of rehabilitation.

Some people say that about the Eurovision Song Contest, too, now that it has become the sprawling, out-of-control plaything of Eastern European teenagers.

A Little Bit Eurovision (RTE1) has been looking back at happier times, and last night featured Fionnuala Sherry, the second last Irish person to win the contest, albeit while representing Norway.

Despite being on at the wrong time of year (it would have made much more sense in May, pre-Jedward’s jaunt to Germany), it’s turned out to be a very decent series, particularly when the subjects have been prepared to open up and talk about themselves.

Sherry, about whom many viewers will have known little before last night, spoke very well about her life, about how, as part of the RTE Concert Orchestra, she had participated in every Eurovision from 1987, how a chance meeting with Norwegian Rolf Lovland at the 1994 contest in Dublin led to them sneaking into the RTE Radio centre and playing a tune he’d written called Nocturne, and how a year later, she’d quit her job, moved to Norway, formed Secret Garden with Lovland and was performing and winning Nocturne in the Eurovision.

With success came depression, a battle with her weight and until very recently, a refusal to tell anybody in the music business her age. (She’s 47 now).

A few years ago, she quit Secret Garden and came back to Ireland where she married hotelier Bernard Doyle in 2010, but has since returned to the band and is making music again. It was a mostly happy story, well told.

And, given our current inability to do well at Eurovision, it was also an interesting slice of history.

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