Natural Dawn killers
Sharing Thursday comedy nights with her partner Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French returns with a new series of spoof whodunnits. Stephanie Billen sifts the evidence.
For someone best known as a comedienne. Dawn French seems inordinately fascinated with murder. She made a wonderful .Annie Wilkes figure in the Franc/1 and Saunders spoof of .l'llsr'ry. turned in a terrific straight performance as an evil nurse in the BBC play Tender Loving (are and is now combining humour and homicide in a second series of the award-winning Murder Most Horrul.
Appropriately dressed in black. btit looking unexpectedly demure beneath her mane of brown hair. French says the most difficult thing about the new series was making murder funny. ‘l’m the last person to talk to about morals — i leave that to the Tory government — but in fact they matter a lot in the series. You really wouldn‘t laugh if it was grisly.‘
While the series is ‘darker and a bit more adult‘ than the first one. French has no doubt that it hits its comic targets. ‘The first show. ()vcrkr’ll. is complete carnage but it is a kind of hyper-reality. I don‘t think it‘s offensive.‘
()verki/l. in which French plays Tim. a suicidal Brummie social-worker who becomes the unlikely accomplice of an assassin (Amanda l)onohoe). is the
warped creation of Scottish writer. Steven Mol'fat. ‘l was in a filthy mood when I wrote it.” he admits. ‘l‘d just finished writing one series of Press (lung and was just going to start on .lokmg Apart and I had to
squeeze this in the middle. I think that’s why I killed so many people in it.’
Complaining viewers are likely to get short shrift. t‘vloffat has had enough of ‘barking mad~ letter-
f writers who ‘don‘t even know how to set the margins on their typewriters.’ Nor will he say sorry to social workers about exchanges such as this: Assassin —— ‘l've killed well over Si) peoplc‘. Tina ‘()h. so you're a social worker too . . . ‘ Says .\loffat: ‘lt‘s a comedy series! l)o (ilaswegians protest about the portrayal of Rab (‘. Nesbitt'.’ I'm saying there is one git who is a social worker. not that all social workers are gits . . .‘
In fact Tim is less eccentric than some of French's other characters in the series. ranging from a hated granny to a Victorian doctor and a would-be torch singer. ‘I don't have a particular lavourite.’ she says. ‘But your memory is coloured by the experience of filming. When we did the Victorian one it was quite uncomfortable. I remember being in long dresses and hot . . .‘ ller ambition now is to ‘play someone who lives in a tracksuit.‘
Surprisingly. whatever her solo ventures to come. she will not be looking for approval from longtime colleague. Jennifer Saunders. ‘Funnily enough we don‘t criticise each others‘ projects. I think because we know each other so well that we know what the other person thinks. We say: ‘l)id you see it‘?‘ ‘Yeah.‘
i ‘Good.‘ And leave it at that. If there's a problem we
will consult each other but the point of doing things separately is to dojust that . . .‘ Far from seething with rage at Saunders‘s huge
' success with Absolutely Fabulous. French is still
: grateful to her for rescuing her from a sticky situation at the Beeb. The pair were in the middle of writing a new series of Franc/i uml .S'uioulers and had a studio
' booked. when French l.ad to drop out suddenly to adopt her daughter. Billie. now two and a half:
I ‘Jennifer stepped in at the last minute and did
Absolutely l’ubulous. She saved my neck. enabling
me to have six months off without anyone else
' knowing why.‘
French is currently appearing with Saunders in Me
and Moan O'Rourke in the West 13nd. Then she
Dawn French gives social work a bad name in Murder Most liorrid
wants a holiday. ‘l've buggered my throat unfortunately. After the run I‘ve got to shut up
according to my director.‘
She is not short of ideas however. French has her own clothing company. 16-17 (so named because 47 per cent of women are size 16 or over). and is involved in a forthcoming Soul/1 Bqu Show celebrating big women. She is also collaborating on a film script. a love story in which she will star.
Given that her husband is Lenny Henry. it is not surprising that their mutual workload occasionally threatens to get in the way of parenthood. ‘1 don't know that I do balance it that well. I try to. There‘s a big calendar on the wall and everyone has to stick by it.‘
It sounds very organised. but whereas most of us are silly in private and sensible in public. French is the opposite. As she says of .llurtlr'r .llos/ llorrul: ‘lt‘s rare to get the chance to show off in such a brazen manner.‘ She gives a lhroaty chuckle. ‘lt's the worst excesses you try to get children not to do. and it‘s actually my job?‘
Mun/er .l/os‘l llorru/ begins or! Ill“ '2 on lluo‘sr/(tv. More/1 .i’ u! 9pm
Early Saturday evening television in Britain has a reputation akin to some at Dante’s more punitive levels of Hell. llere be lloel, Cilla, Barrymore, Beadle, Baywatch and related honors, the 90s legacy of a Faustian pact between TV companies and major breweries to ensure that the great British viewer is
sent screaming down the pub every weekend.
Into this cultural void, the New Adventures 0i Superman came as, it nrt quite a bolt lrom the blue, at least a Gil-watt bulb glowing in the darkness. llip, literate and witty, it has delivered more than its unpromising premise — superhero meets girl who tancies super-villain — suggested. p.-." .-_ _- - . - __ ,.. -, a-“ e-.. 54 The List 25 February—l0 March I994
John Shea hides the ‘inner hunchback’ as Lex [other
an old story.’
A substantial degree oi credit must go to John Shea, who plays the designer baddie lex Luthor as ‘a cross between Richard III and Cary Grant in Hotorious’. ‘People are probably surprised that it’s as good as it is,’ he 1 says. ‘They didn’t believe that something dealing with a subject that a has become part of American pop mythology could be witty, could be well-written, could have a new take on
Shea was cautious when first offered the part of Luthor, but the opportunity to reinvent the character was the clinching factor. ‘The way he’s usually been is this bald, overweight, comic ' kind of villain, and I wanted to tind a i new way oi doing it. In the 803 we learned that villainy comes in i innocent guises, so I wanted luthor to 1 be this kind of corporate villain, . somebody who has enormous power 1
because of his wealth, but also !
, because of his will. The secret was that Luthor must have nothing outwardly villainous but have a kind of
Viewers in the States have already been gripped by the implications of
l Luthor seducing the teisty lois Lane,
and Shea doesn’t rule out the
possibility. ‘Sure, Luthor is very seductive, has this power, particularly
when Superman is such a nice guy. I’m
: reminded of the The Lady Anne wooing
scene in Richard III. lle’s killed her
husband and she confronts him with it
and he says “Yes, but i did it tor you”.
1 She finds this attractive and repulsive,
; which is what we’re trying to do here.’
Raunchy stutt, and even it The llew
* Adventures Of Superman is up against
‘ Baywatch, Saturday evenings are
beginning to hang a little tougher.
' (Tom Lappin)
The New Adventures Of Superman is on
8861 Saturdays at 5.30pm.