TV UK, 22 August

Final despatch from the Fringe, with Judas, Attempts On Her Life and The Canterbury Tales.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Politics

First of all, I haven’t seen the last two episodes of 24, so don’t even try to talk to me about it until I say it’s okay.

But actually, having been away from TV for nearly three weeks now, I’m starting to reflect on how impoverished all your lives are. There you sit in front of the TV passively waiting for stimulation, unable to hold a decent conversation or even relate to a real human being….

Fortunately I’ll be back on the sofa by the weekend, and will be able to put such evil thoughts behind me, but it has been an interesting few weeks watching theatre at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Maybe I should have brought a TV crew, and made one of those Trading Places/Faking It/Living With The Enemy programmes.

A million miles from the hype and glamour of 24, I spent an hour last weekend sitting in an audience of four, two of whom were obvious ringers, watching a play by a young company from Cork. It was about Judas, except that he was living in a bedsit in the present day, and two different actors played his ego and his id (1). Regardless of the tiny audience, it was a rather good effort, the sort of quirky, experimental show the Fringe is all about.

Other plays I’ve enjoyed this week include Attempts On Her Life(2), a complicated and fascinating theatrical investigation of a mysterious life or lives, and The Canterbury Tales: Tales from the Decameron (3), a physical and very funny retelling of a selection of medieval stories. This is the sort of thing that supports my theory that theatre can supply TV with ideas.

On Tuesday, I saw Stephen Poliakoff, possibly Britain’s most esteemed screenwriter (who got his first break at the Fringe), speaking at the Book Festival. He argued that there is a shortage of quirky new programming on TV, to the extent that the BBC continuity announcer had been unsure how to introduce his own most recent drama, Shooting the Past. This is undoubtedly a problem, since the current conservatism of TV executives is not even a guarantee of quality.

Another consequence of being away from TV for the past few weeks is that I was barely aware of the prolonged search for the two girls who went missing in Cambridgeshire. I had glanced at the story in the newspapers, but it wasn’t until the suspects were arrested at the weekend that I saw a few minutes of TV. But this is the kind of story TV is particularly bad at. I watched one reporter after another standing outside the same house saying ‘This is very significant’, before switching off in disgust.

Now that the girls’ dead bodies have been found, TV’s peculiar sense of duty to cover such awful stories mawkishly means that the fallout will be felt for some weeks to come. This weekend’s scheduled screening of Messiah 2 has been postponed for fear that a drama about murder will offend viewers.

That I will not get to see the programme on my return to the sofa is unfortunate. That this kind of clumsy tampering with the schedules passes for sensitivity is tragic.

Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

Read on:

spiked-issue: TV

(1) See the review of Judas on the Culture Wars website

(2) See the review of Attempts On Her Life on the Culture Wars website

(3) See the review of The Canterbury Tales: tales from the Decameron on the Culture Wars website

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Topics Politics


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