Thursday, 5 February 2015

Further thoughts on No Place Like Home

I am still watching No Place Like Home (on the Drama Channel, if you are UK-based and have Freeview), and still trying to puzzle out precisely what it is I feel about it. And an episode broadcast yesterday has helped me along the way, hence this second post.

First of all, when I was talking about tempo in the previous post - well, it's obvious now. It's not a farce as such, but it is played at a farcical pace: that's why you're drawn in (if you are anything like me), and even as you register the improbabilities it is a place you want to be.

Because the performances are, uniformly, superb. From the morose Arthur (William Gaunt) holding it all together, to the manic son-in-law (Daniel Hill), a  sort of oversized child or puppy, repellent and endearing in equal measure, everyone seems to get the most out of the dialogue. My sense that neighbour Vera (Marcia Warren) was out of place no longer seems relevant: naturalistic it ain't. I can't remember now whether initial episodes were perhaps less certain, but the sense now (meaning in the middle of the third series being repeated as I write this) is that everyone gets it. It's not the same, but one of the joys of Third Rock From the Sun was that everyone had locked into a way of playing.

The writing, however, I am less sure about. I suspect that portions would make for dreary reading on the page. But then again it was written to be played, not read.

By and large there aren't many outside characters in individual episodes, but yesterday's plotline, about Vera's crazy menagerie getting out of control, involved a protest by a group of neighbours whom Arthur sees queueing up to complain outside Vera and Trevor's house.

And here's where I get confused - but in a good way. At first I scanned the faces,  predictable suburban types, but then I got drawn to one in particular, who had quite a substantial chunk of half-surreal dialogue about a disappearing parrot who had made his escape posing as one of the plastic birds in the cage (it could have been written for Freddie Davies).

And as I listened and marvelled I thought several things. Where the h*ck had I seen her before? The answer is that she was Helen Dorward, who played Avis Tennyson ("no relation") in Crossroads, a particularly feckless waitress who succumbed to a cutprice Bilko called Bill, and even took him back when he returned to the series after some duplicity had been exposed.

But I was also wondering: "What's this going to lead to for the episode as a whole?" And the answer was: nothing. The neighbours did not show up at the subsequent court hearing, for all their protesting, and we saw Ms Dorward's character no more. I do hope we might see her again, but who knows?

So all there was was a perfect little cameo which allowed the actress to play a kind of exaggerated version of Avis, or a near relative. Now, in terms of plot structure, that was sort of bad. But in the minute or two that her musings lasted we were given all we really needed to know about the character. So the decision was sort of right. And both the performance and the sheer quality of the writing justified this detour up a cul de sac. And soon the spotlight was firmly put on Vera, giving an impassioned defence of her animal kingdom.

There are many moments in No Place Like Home where individual lines and aspects of plot development feel like they need tweaking. But it matters and it doesn't. The characters come on and they entertain and beguile us, and that's enough. I also recall what my friend late of North Berwick once said about an episode of Simon Nye's Hardware. Structurally it was slipshod and lazy, but it made him laugh (as it did me). No Place Like Home is, I suppose, the lightest of fare, but played beautifully, and I look forward to returning to the Crabtrees' home tonight.

Earlier post here.
Further further thoughts here.

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