From Orphans to Psychos, DOUGLAS HENSHALL has mixed the dark and the droll to great effect. Even in Channel 4’s traumatic family drama Kid In The Corner, he is still game for a laugh. Words: Brian Donaldson
IGNORANCE MAY BE BLISS BUT BEING ACCUSED OF NOT DOING your research would make anyone unhappy. Douglas Henshall shakes off any such claims by having deliberately gone into his latest role as Alex. the father of a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). knowing as little about the subject as he could. And for perfectly good dramatic reasons.
‘Neither Alex nor Theresa [the mother. played by Clare Holman] know anything about what it is. so I thought it best to go in ignorant and slowly learn about it just as they did.’ he insists. ‘lf Tony had come in with dossiers about it I would have chased him. ljust got on with it in my own way and was given the freedom to do that. thankfully. [I was as authentic and truthful as we could possibly make it.’
The Tony in question is Marchant. the award—winning TV writer behind Holding On and this year‘s (in'ui lit/m'iuiinns. But. as much as Henshall relied on the quality of the script for the success of the three- part Kit! In The Corner. he was also looking to the lad in the title. Making his first telly appearance. liric Byrne plays eight-year-old Danny. And a remarkable one it is too. ‘We got on well. I‘m glad to say. because one of the things that was scary is that if kids don‘t like you. they make it perfectly obvious. They‘re not backwards in coming forwards.’
At the age of two. Danny was like most children; often tetchy and frequently hyperactive. Six years on and there is little sign of that changing. Indeed. his behaviour has steadily deteriorated from using some fine .»\nglo-Saxon expressions to making an imprint in the carpet with the steam iron and punching holes in doors. Alex and Theresa are pretty much at their wits' end as _ Danny is booted out of his school 'You have to have a blt OT and their search for the answer in humour in everything or it's professional advice gets them _ u u , nowhere. like, come on, cheer up .
It's tough to watch and tougher to imagine the parents' torment. exemplified in Alex's wish that his son was dead and the physical violence he resorts to. Yet. as with virtually everything llenshall has been involved with. there is still room for the widest smile in the Scottish acting profession to make an appearance. ‘()rp/iuns had a lot of humour in it as did l’syt‘lms — but you would need some sense of humour to work in a place like a psychiatric ward. And this has got its moments. You have to have a bit of humour in everything or it‘s like. “come on. cheer up".~
This would possibly have been Henshall‘s comment to the press who ganged up on P.\‘_\'('/I()S earlier this year. accusing it of treating mental illness with a certain disregard. 'l wouldn‘t be surprised if the likes of the Daily livpross was to find something to get outraged about again.‘ he predicts with a sigh. 'It really pissed me off 'cos most of the stuff I read about l’svt'lms was so uninformed. And I thought. “I'm about as lay a person as you can get about stuff like that and I still know more than you". I thought they were deliberately looking for the negative angle rather than trying to find anything positive in it. which was irresponsible considering the subject matter we were dealing with.‘
While a touch of controversy does little harm to a programme‘s rating potential. Henshall is sincere when he states his objections to the media mayhem which results every time a difficult topic comes on screen. Heated debate. rather than hollow decrying. is the reaction he would prefer to see once viewers switch on to Kid In The Corner. 'lf this starts people talking. then you can‘t ask for any more than that.‘
Kid In The Corner starts on Channel 4, Wed 24 Nov, 10pm. 8THE LIST18 Nov—2 Dec 1999