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Moments of raw truth

'SHOW, don't tell' was a lesson that had to be learned pretty quickly during the early days of television drama, when far too many writers and directors, drawn from radio or the theatre, thought the way to make TV plays was to point a static camera at the actors and let them talk, talk, talk, rather than do, do, do.

Random, adapted from her own stage play by Debbie Tucker Green, who also directed, tried to show us and tell us at the same time. The end result was frequently frustrating and irritating.

The dramatic thrust of Random is simple and powerful: a black family's day begins normally, with the usual low-level bickering around the breakfast table, but takes a horrible turn a few hours later when the police arrive and announce that the teenage son has been stabbed to death in a random incident.

On stage, Random was presented as a monologue performed by actress Nadine Marshall, who played the big sister of the family, as well as all the other characters in the story. Marshall repeated her role here and her performance, as she effortlessly switched from one voice to another and seemed to physically change as she did so, was astonishingly good. But it was buried under too much trickery.

In an effort to open out the story, Random kept switching awkwardly between Marshall's monologue in a bare studio and straightforward dramatic scenes, featuring her and other actors. To add to the confusion, some of them spoke in her voice and a lot of the dialogue was written in heavy patois.

The effect was dizzying and disorientating, and a casual viewer tuning in to Random without having first checked out what it was about might have quickly tuned back out again, bored and confused.

But if you had the patience to stick with it through the first half-hour, you were rewarded with some powerful scenes, such as when "Sister" stops by the crime scene to find a makeshift shrine of flowers, candles and messages to her brother has been set up by his friends: an oasis of grief in the middle of the indifferent roar of the rush-hour London traffic.

At another point, a group of her workmates -- many of whom she dislikes -- turn up at the house to offer the usual "If there's anything we can do" line. "Why are YOU crying?" she asks one particularly despised individual. "You didn't even know him."

It was a moment of raw truth among the television trickery.

Abi Morgan's stylish drama The Hour, which is actually set during the comparatively early days of television, the 1950s, came to the end of its six-part run last night, having taking a bit of a mild kicking from some critics, who seemed pissed off it wasn't Mad Men.

There were complaints about anachronistic dialogue and the fact that the male characters, especially Dominic West's suave anchorman Hector and Ben Whishaw's tenacious reporter Freddie, were more convincingly drawn than Romola Garai's simpering, wishy-washy female producer Bel.

But The Hour had its fine moments and there were plenty of them in this tense finale, which saw the current affairs programme's team risk all by defying the establishment and blowing the lid off the Eden government's dirty tricks in the Suez war, live on air.

They lost in the end, with The Hour being yanked off air mid-interview by slimy government man McCain (a brilliant performance by Julian Rhind-Tutt). Hector, favouring career ambitions over honesty, bottled a difficult interview and dumped Bel to go back to his rich wife.

Freddie, meanwhile, discovered that the KGB mole in the BBC was none other than his boss, Clarence (Anton Lesser), who had been playing him like a fiddle all along.

Morgan has said she'd like to do another series of The Hour but the BBC is apparently being non-committal. Personally, I'd love it if she were to push The Hour forward a few years to an even more turbulent time, the 1960s.

Random HHIII

The Hour HHHHI


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