Alan Bleasdale’s last television drama GBH uncovered town hall corruption with Robert Lindsay as the power-crazed council leader. Now Bleasdale has turned his attention to the internal politics of the family, discovers Gill Roth.
At first. Joke ’s Progress seems a million miles away from the sordid machinations and corruption in higli places of (JBH -- Alan Bleasdale‘s last series for Channel 4 -- but don't let the cosy. rural facade fool you. Bleasdale may have swapped municipal wheeling-and-dealing for domestic politics but he‘s not pulling any punches.
Unemployment and dishonest politicians were at the forefront of 1982's The Boys l’rom The Black Stuff and (IBM. but Bleasdale's writing has never been mere political diatribe. Many of Bleasdale's characters walk a fine line between sanity and hysteria. informing each series with a strong undercurrent of personal trauma that has a lasting impact. long after the plot is forgotten. After twenty years in the game. Bleasdale admits he‘s still writing about the same things but this time he has decided to focus on the smaller canvas of personal relationships.
‘lf you look carefully at Bloeksttrﬂ‘and (I‘BH. a lot of it‘s about childhood and madness.‘ he says. ‘I dress it up in different clothes but basically I‘ve just continued to write about the stuff that gives me anxiety — the past and the inevitable.‘
For Joke 's Progress Bleasdale. who as co-producer has far more clout than many screenwiters. assembled a cast from his personal repertory of favourite actors including Julie Walters and Robert Lindsay who played mother and son in (I‘BH. This time round they are husband and wife. with the
amazing seven-year-old Barclay Wright playing their
son Jake. around whom the drama revolves.
()riginally Bleasdale refused the commission from Channel 4 because he was convinced he would never find a child who could sustain a role of such emotional range. However. Wright's obvious natural ability has the effect of making you forget you're watching a very young child in the central role of a gruelling. but also extremely funny television drama. Director Robin Lefevre has elicited a moving performance. combining poignant vulnerability with the sometimes surreal vision in the mind of a young child trying to make sense of a complicated adult world.
Parents‘ treatment of their children and what children do to their parents is the key to this epic tragi-comedy about a family in crisis. Taking the universal theme of how families mess you up. the main ingredients of Jake 's Progress boil down to love and a whole lot of pain. Something in the series will
get under the skin of almost everyone and tweak a few raw nerve endings.
Julie Diadoni (Walters) is by nature the responsible half of a marriage of opposites. In a hopeless effort to make ends meet she works long hours as a nurse in a NllS geriatric ward and is invariably tired and short tempered when she arrives home in the evening. Lindsay is captivating as unemployed Jamie who doesn‘t realise the power of his charms. A warm. funny and romantic dreamer. Jamie remains nostalgic
‘It you look carefully at Blackstutt and GB" a lot of it’s about childhood and madness. I’ve just continued to write
about the stuff that gives me anxiety -
the past and the inevitable.’
for his youthful past in America. where he had a brief flirtation with rock stardom.
Now a middle-aged. unemployed house husband. the only swinging he does is at the play-park. with his young son Jake. surrounded by the admiring glances of horny young mothers. Consequently. though through no fault of her own. Julie bares the brunt ofJake‘s feelings of neglect. Alienated and resentful. he forges an intense alliance with his
happy-go-lucky dad who is only too willing to '
the grey reality of the adult world in favour of the
primary colours ofchildhood. Julie discovers she's
pregnant just as their financial situation hits rock bottom and Jamie's refusal to deal with the harsh realities of life puts their relationship in the danger zone.
Bleasdale seems to have a knack for choosing timely subjects for his drama. When he started writing The Boys From l/I(’ Blur/c Silt/IL there was a Labour govemment but the Liver'pool-lmsed Bleasdale was already aware that whoever won the election. unemployment would become the major issue. Now the government of the day has an obsession with family values, which has created the perfect context for Jake ‘s Progress. The apparent collapse of the nuclear family unit. caused partly by mass redundancy in traditionally male-dominated industries. has left many women as the primary breadwinner. radically reversing the roles that previous generations considered the norm.
Jake's Progress doesn't hit you over the head with any particular socio-political angle and Bleasdale had been contemplating the idea since the mid-80s but now. ten years later. certain aspects of the story are probably more relevant than when he thought of them.
Jake 's‘ Progress starts on Thurs [2 ()("I (ll 9pm on Channel 4.
The List 6- l9 Oct 1995 81 ’