RODDY DOYLE FEATURE
‘When I was writing the Rabitte books I was always aware that I was only writing about one typical aspect of Dublin. I never felt the Rahittes were the full picture. I knew that their next-door neighbours, the Spencers, might be equally typical.’
eminently capable of mopping up any ‘TV bastard of the year’ titles on offer. ‘Mad as shite’. Charlo is a flashy. occasionally charming. philandering fly-boy. resorting to petty crime to finance his regular pub sessions and inﬂicting mental and physical cruelty on his wife Paula (Ger Ryan) when she complains.
Throughout the series. the deterioration of Charlo and Paula’s relationship and the effect of
the conﬂict on their two eldest children is viewed from four perspectives. Charlo descends into self-hating aggression. Paula hits the vodka bottle. son John-Paul runs away from home. and daughter Nicola withdraws into herself. Tightly connected to it all is the family’s edge-of- oblivion existence. Doyle makes an issue of his cha'racters’ social situation as a way of explain- ing some of the anger and frustration that triggers their actions. ‘The word working-class seems to tne illogical in certain parts of Dublin now.’ he says. ‘because so few people actually work. There’s a bigger and bigger underclass becoming more and more marginalised. If you want to use a bank. you don’t go into the bank. you stick a card in the , wall. and if you haven’t got the ' cash you haven’t got the card. 3' So more and more people are . being left out in the cold. The A Spencers are caught in a bad time. If they were around twenty years earlier. their life might have been easier. Charlo mightn’t be the man he is and Paula mightn’t have the drink problem. I’m not saying . everybody in that situation 35 reacts like that. but all these - _ . ‘ things go on. there are people Ni“ .) ' in the world who live like that.’ The extremes of passion and desperation, the complex characters. the lurches from black comedy to bleak tragedy throw up inevitable comparisons with the last TV drama to offer such a detailed depiction of the underclass. Boys From The lilac/(stuff In fact the resonances go beyond the characters’ situation. Michael Winterbottom’s direction has the dirty verité immediacy of Bleasdale’s masterpiece. and even the theme tune. a plaintive Elvis Costello rendition of the Cilla Black hit ‘Step Inside Love’ is a sardonic Scouse joke. Doyle isn’t an avid TV watcher (‘apart from Twin Peaks’) but can’t deny the inspiration if not the inﬂuence of Blackstuﬂ. ‘From the very beginning of Boys From The Blackstaﬂ” I completely loved Yosser Hughes,’ he recalls. ‘and felt so sad at the decline of him and his family. I felt guilty for laughing sometimes. like the scene in the confession box when the priest says “Call me Dan”. and Yosser says “I’m desperate Dan”. It’s like weeping and laughing at the same time. I was aware of that with Family. I‘ve included funny scenes. like the time when they’re all sitting round playing Beerhunter [mild form of Russian roulette involving beer cans. one of which has been
shaken. held to temple]. which I thought was hilarious. Then I’ve wondered “Should I have that or not?” I worried that in a way the audience might end up liking Charlo. the way he gets into the spirit of the thing with the tie around
his forehead. and accept the \_
violence later on. I wrote a play a \\ ' ' few years back in Dublin where the 3'; male character is on the verge of ' " beating his wife and there were people laughing. I thought it very disturbing but at the same time I couldn’t go round the audience saying “That wasn’t funny. you’re r not supposed to laugh.”’
Mind you, Doyle once wrote a farce about three Dublin lads kidnapping a bishop and was roundly condemned by a Church elder for encouraging the abduction of clergy. For a writer whose every word has been lauded to the heavens in Britain. there’s a distinct air of the prophet never welcome in his ," homeland about his reception in - Ireland. where each triumph is subjected to patrician disapproval. ‘lf you’re doing something in Ireland there is this attitude that you have to show the country in its best light.’ he says. ‘You let the side down if you roll away the stone and look at what’s underneath. There will be a certain negative reaction for sure. but when I published The Van I didn’t get one good review in Ireland. but people on the street were reading
Roddy Doyle: ‘lt’s very hard to express my delight at a series that shows a man beating his wife in front of his children.’
it and enjoying it. So with this there might be a snooty reaction from the press and a fairly loud reaction from people who are ; watching it.’ r‘ With Famin Doyle isn’t so much - waiting for the reviews as anticipating ‘ what viewers are going to be saying in the streets and the pubs. Even in an increasingly fragmented TV culture. great TV drama has the capacity to ' become a national talking point (GBH and To Play The King being the most recent examples). We’re back in Blackstuﬂ territory again. ‘I remember when Boys From The Blackstujf was on. everybody was arguing about it the day after.’ he says. ‘lt was the same in Ireland when The .S‘nappcr was broadcast last April. everybody was talking about it. One of the good things ' about doing this four-part series is that it might become a topic ofconversation on the Monday morning. it might generate hostility. I’m curious to see what happens}
In terms of Doyle’s past work. Famin ”' hangs tougher than the rest. lt’s undeniably painful viewing. although redeemed by the ' writer’s obvious sympathy for his charac- ters. In the last two episodes he even offers some glimpses ofhope in the midst of all the violence and frustration. ‘I wouldn’t want to keep things sinking down and down. because at heart I’m quite an optimist. My general picture ofthe state of Ireland or the state of the world might be quite pessimistic. but personally I’m always looking for glimpses of hope. I wouldn’t wish that existence on that family for the rest of their ﬁctional lives.’
In the end Famin is a remarkable piece of TV. all the more valu- .' able because it is so out of synch with the \ current vogue for \ lightweight. light entertainment laugh- ter-led drama. As well ' as Bleasdale. Family ' recalls the kitchen-sink plays ofthe 60s and 70s. when it wasn’t unfash- ionable to have a social conscience. Doyle is rightly proud of it and of its subject matter. ‘lt’s very hard to express my delight — and I am delighted with it — at a _ series that shows a man beating his wife in front of his children. But it was always in me. and this was just the opportunity to get it out.’ poignant irony that it should be left up to one of the funniest writers in the language to create a drama so serious and powerful. D Family begins on BBC 1 on Sunday 8 May.
The List 6—19 May I994 7