Monday, February 26, 2007

Big Dave versus The Directors

Hmmm, not being what you might call a huge fan of Doctor Who, and having seen enough of the BBC production of Casanova to make me heave, I’ve not been terribly caught up in the current wave of David Tennant-mania that has been sweeping the nation.

With the music of the Smiths (stick with it...), I stayed open to the (admittedly unlikely) possibility that there might be a track at least that took my fancy (in their case, it was How Soon Is Now, right up until Morrissey insisted on opening his whining gob). With Big Dave Ten-Inch, I hoped it was a bad case of Lucas-itis (n: a director with a very particular vision stamps so hard on the abilities of a given actor or actors that they turn into soulless meat puppets).

It would seem, from last night’s showing of Tony Marchant’s Recovery, that it has been just that. David Tennant plays Alan Hamilton, head of a building firm, who sustains a brain injury when he steps out in front of a passing van after going out for a drink with a friend.

The resulting accident leaves him in a deep coma but with remarkably few physical injuries. His wife, Tricia, (played superbly by Sarah Parish) is delighted when he comes round - only to discover that the man she loved has disappeared. His personality is completely different. He’s lost all of his inhibitions and he veers from being violently angry and frustrated to vulnerable and childlike. Tricia longs to find her husband but fears she may have lost him forever.

Tipped off by Mr. Marchant showing some impressive-looking clips and talking through the gestation of the show at the DeMontfort University Scriptwriting day attended by GD and moi, I tuned in to check out the whole show. Though my recent brain-melt had only been minor and thankfully temporary, there was a soupçon of fellow-feeling for the main character’s plight.

The tenor of the NHS’ lack of post-operative care was certainly bang-on. I left hospital ten years ago after spinal surgery with a whole bunch of stitches and staples that should have been removed, barley able to walk more than a few tens of feet and with no organisation or provision of physical therapy whatsoever. This is not the fault of individual nurses or doctors. It is more the case that there is actually so little after-care available in the public health sector per se, that there’s often simply nothing to actually pass you on to. In many cases, the nurses and doctors don’t even know about organisations like Headway, who are able to offer support and information for the families of brain injury patients. The families often have no choice but to become full-time carers of their injured loved ones, putting their lives on permanent hold. This invariably causes anger, bitterness and isolation which leads to divorces and abandonment if not caught in time.

This was masterfully portrayed by both Tennant and Parish as the family fragmented, old grudges with the in-laws resurfaced, family friends drifted away and the focus on the elder son’s college education lost its momentum completely. Tennant had apparently spent time at a group session for brain injury survivors at Headway’s Essex Centre, meeting survivors and staff while doing research for his role.

Though the final denoument brought rays of hope, it didn’t wrap everything up in ribbons and present a world in which people on TV never stay hurt. There was no miracle recovery, no way back for the family to where they were before, yet the place they were now in was somewhere in which they could find a different, yet fulfilling life together. It did have one or two irritating passages of “oh come on!” in which the set-ups stood out a mile, but they were few and far between and definitely more than made up for by the entirety of the piece.

The supporting cast nailed their parts consummately, and the direction was not flag-waving, ooh, look at the ISSUE rubbish, but gentle, thoughtful and above all, respectful. Well photographed too, I thought.

As far as Tony Marchant’s writing goes, I was struck by the fact that it felt very even-handed, neither siding with how awful it was for the injured party, nor how much the family suffered.

After last night’s performance, I now look forward to more of Big Dave’s work, in the hope that other directors, such as Recovery’s Andy DeEmmony, get to work with him and not the Saturday girl they get in on Doctor Poo.


At 6:37 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

First saw Tennant in the BBC's Blackpool where he had a great understated role - acting opposite Sarah parish as well. So I knew he could act.

But Casanova was pure dumb pantomime compared to the Dennis Potter-scripted version from 1971. And the less said about Poo the better.

Recovery was superb. If was on ITV or scripted by anyone other than Tony Marchant it would have drowned in syrup long before the end.

Also proved his opinion that when it comes to writing, research, research, research is vital. If it was simply "made up" you could imagine DT cranking it right past 11 to 12 in a "Wee hee, I'm mad me!" kind of way.

An absolutely remarkable piece of work.

At 3:33 pm, Blogger Optimistic_Reader said...

GD - I agree, I thought David Tennant and Sarah Parish were the best things about Blackpool.

Had a mixed reaction to Recovery - loved that it was, as you say, even-handed and avoided making the wife into a martyr figure. But the behavior of the characters angered me a lot - why on earth would anyone have thought it okay for a someone recovering from serious head injury to go back to work so soon? And on a building site? There were other things, too, that made me struggle to empathise with the family and friends. But I'm not entirely without bias on the subject and I'm certainly not in any position to criticise the mighty Tony Marchant so I will skulk off again now...

At 8:00 pm, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

OR, you're absolutely right. I think that TM was probably rolling a *lot* of stories from various brain injury people into one show, so that he could illustrate the scope of how badly it could go wrong.

Maybe. I'm just guessing...


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