Sunday 18 March 2018

Television: A play on turds -- not quite, but engaging Fiona has eye for drama

Turdspotting: Fiona Looney. GARETH CHAN
Turdspotting: Fiona Looney. GARETH CHAN

John Boland

In Play Next Door (RTÉ One), Fiona Looney was in Thurles trying to write a drama when she spied a dog turd on the pavement alongside Semple Stadium. Then she spied some more nearby. "Clean up after your f**kin' dogs, Thurles," she snarled.

Then she spied even more of the offending objects and then even more again and soon it was "nine, 10, 11" and then "17, 18, 19" until finally she had identified 52 separate canine bowel movements on one shortish stretch of sidewalk. "That is not accepable," she fumed. "Disgusting is the word for it, really."

Forget trainspotting, this was an even more obsessive case of turdspotting, though sadly neither her disgust nor the dog excretions made their way into the 40-minute drama that succeeded the documentary -- her brief having been to spend a month in Thurles, set her play in a disused pub there and draw on some aspects of the Tipperary town for her inspiration.

This she achieved through close observation and a degree of ingenuity. She pondered the pub's abandoned pool table, which had once been "the focal point for youth activity" in the town. Then she met the director of Semple Stadium, his son now living in America with a baby daughter who would grow up hardly ever seeing her grandfather. And she also came across a little island of pheasants below the bridge, the chicks bred by the local gun club until they were old enough to fly away into the unknown -- or, if they were unlucky, into someone's rifle sights.

Here, she felt, was the "germ of an idea -- emigration with pheasants in it", which she thought was "uniquely Thurles", though halfway through the writing she hit a creative crisis, which the narrator helpfully informed us was a case of "writer's block". Thankfully, not too much was made of this, and the drama got finished without further trauma.

Rather good it was, too, as we discovered immediately after the film ended.

The author, who'd been an engaging companion throughout the documentary, used her experience of Thurles persuasively in her determinedly traditional but genuinely poignant drama of loss and separation as unfolded in a late-night pub. I was reminded of Billy Roche's lonely souls in his marvellous Wexford plays, though the pheasants plonked on the table might have struck him as a bit too symbolic.

But the overall result, with beautiful playing by Eamonn Hunt and Dawn Bradfield and with direction of real finesse by Charlie McCarthy, more than justified an experiment which will feature Patrick McCabe and Deirdre Purcell undertaking a similar task over the next two weeks.

And the characters were certainly more sympathetic than the people encountered in The 7.39, a BBC One two-parter by David Nicholls (author of the romantic bestseller One Day), which advance publicity kept telling us was a modern-day equivalent of the 1944 classic Brief Encounter.

Well, it was and it wasn't. Yes, married estate agent David Morrissey and about-to-be-married Sheridan Smith met by courtesy of England's commuter rail system, just as Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson had done in the David Lean movie, but David and Sheridan ended up in bed together halfway through, which Trevor and Celia certainly didn't.

And in the BBC One drama, wife and boyfriend found out what was going on, which led to all sorts of repercussions, whereas Trevor and Celia finally decided they couldn't have the stars, or even the moon, and quietly retreated to the forlorn miseries of their dull marriages.

How conventional, how English, but how moving, too, which The 7.39 wasn't, not helped by the dour character portrayed by Morrissey. What did the lovely Sheridan Smith see in him?

Screened before Christmas but reshown this week, Keane & Vieira: Best of Enemies (UTV) was probably manna for Man U and Arsenal fans and, indeed, was occasionally fascinating -- such as when the interviewer queried Roy Keane's choice of Brian Clough as the greatest manager under which he'd worked. Not Alex Ferguson? "I've given my answer," the steely Keane replied.

More absorbingly, though, another furiously driven Corkman was the subject of ROG: The Ronan O'Gara Documentary (RTÉ One) and I say that not just because rugby has always been the sport I love the most but also because the great Munster and Irish outhalf has never been bashful about makings his views felt.

Nor is he unaware of how he has often been regarded. People, he said, usually tended to perceive him as "grumpy, difficult and awkward", descriptions which he didn't disavow -- indeed, at one point in this account of his career's last four years, he wished somewhat wistfully that he "could have a laugh".

But the words he most constantly used to describe what rugby meant to him were such positives as "honesty", "attitude", "loyalty", "respect", "love", "family" and "the right values" -- all of which old-fashioned virtues he's always had in abundance.

And it was his honesty that shone through an expertly edited film that was perhaps overlong at 90 minutes but that, without recourse to assessments from anyone other than himself, managed to suggest both the simplicity of his goals and the complexity of his character.


Spoonful of Nigella helps bland recipe

Filmed before the recent unfortunate cocaine headlines, Nigella Lawson was at her most archly imperious and self-consciously sultry in the first instalment of The Taste (Channel 4), extolling the joys of "sinful gratification" with a fervour that might well elude her now.

The basic idea of the series, though, is a crock -- aspirant chefs being judged by a single spoonful of assorted ingredients as if such a mishmash of flavours is all that cooking is about.

Of the two other judges, Anthony Bourdain ("the ultimate cool dude", according to Nigella) favours effing and blinding, while LA-based French chef Ludo Lefebvre speaks in an English that only Antoine de Caunes of Eurotrash fame could possibly understand.

Irish Independent

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