Inside No.9 Review: ‘Inside No. 9 Live: Dead Line’

*contains spoilers*

“I knew this would happen. Makes us look stupid” (Reece Shearsmith: ‘Dead Line’)

“What are they saying on Twitter?” (Steve Pemberton: ‘Dead Line’)

The way it was done, the sheer audacity of the whole thing left one almost open-mouthed in admiration and amazement. The chutzpah of Pemberton & Shearsmith and the ‘Inside No.9’ production team to attempt it and what’s more triumphantly pull it off in this digital age of non-linear broadcasting, social media cynicism and the conspicuous spoilers of excessive press coverage takes a stroke of genius of Wellesian proportions.

Who could have predicted THAT ‘Inside No.9 Live’ Halloween special?  The power of it pulled you in to its brilliantly constructed orbit and did not release its grip until the end credits had faded from the screen. Following its transmission a small scattering of tweets announced they hadn’t been taken in and claimed they knew exactly what the creators were going to do. Oh really? Putting these attention-seeking, self-declared seers aside, overwhelmingly the response to ‘Inside No.9 Live’ from fans and critics alike was unrestrained praise, more deserved hosannas thrown in the creators’ direction and a ‘hands held up’ acknowledgement they’d been duped by the trickery.

‘Inside No.9 Live: Dead Line’ was a mesmerising interplay of manipulation, misdirection, experimental narrative form, meta winks and nods, archive footage, intertextuality, urban myth, superstition and audience interaction contained within the running engine of a live  broadcast. Its ambition dazzled and astonished in equal measure.

The way it built and developed was dizzying in its complexity. The control and precision involved, the minute detail and hair’s breadth timing took the meticulous construction of masters.

Not only was ‘Inside No. 9 Live: Dead Line’ a creative and technical coup for Pemberton & Shearsmith, they succeeded in making it event television in its truest sense – that increasingly rare occasion when a programme, bound by the moorings of scheduled television, unifies viewers through a shared experience. ‘Dead Line’ unnerved, thrilled and delighted those watching as it transmitted live. This at a time of increasingly fragmented audiences and disconnected viewing habits, where the linear broadcast tradition is no longer the norm for many people.

When the live Halloween Special was announced by the BBC several months ago it confirmed the broadcaster’s high regard for the No.9 series. The live edition would mark ‘Inside No. 9’s 25th story, a significant milestone which made you appreciate No. 9 had already produced 24 sublime, completely unconnected stories – an extraordinary rate and range of creativity and imagination.

Offering Pemberton & Shearsmith the challenge of a live broadcast was a rare honour in the modern broadcasting age. The few programmes who’ve had it bestowed on them, such as ‘EastEnders’ and ‘Coronation Street’, were to mark  and honour significantly bigger anniversaries than a 25th episode and commissioning it as a Halloween special acknowledged its creators’ horror predilections.

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The media build-up in the weeks leading up to its broadcast date was couched in very particular terms. A perusal of the material initiated during this period – the BBC’s official press release and its online replication by TV and comedy websites as well as Pemberton & Shearsmith’s Abney Park cemetery photoshoot to which the media were invited and where a number of pre-arranged interviews were conducted – set the frames of reference around which the publicity was generated for ‘Inside No. 9 Live’. It helped fix expectations for the Halloween Special in the minds of the audience and put down markers surrounding anticipation of the live broadcast. In interviews, Pemberton & Shearsmith emphasised the frisson of excitement and sense of trepidation involved in broadcasting live due to the possibility of something going awry (“We did think, ‘Is it just a headache for us? Does the audience just grimly watch on thinking, is anything going to go wrong?”) (Reece Shearsmith) [1] (“It’s much more like how they used to do it in the old days. A lot of prep, a lot of build-up and one chance to get it right”) (Steve Pemberton) [2]

The pre-broadcast publicity also made sure the synopsis for ‘Dead Line’ (the established title of the live episode) and its featured characters were outlined in enough detail to prime viewers as to what they’d be seeing as the live broadcast kicked off: Arthur Flitwick (Pemberton) finds an abandoned mobile phone in a graveyard and attempts to contact its owner, plunging him “into a nightmare of his own making” (as the BBC’s media centre release stated it). The other featured characters were a reverend (Shearsmith) and one guest actor, Stephanie Cole, as a parishioner. It firmly established a belief that the Halloween Special would take its lead from the bygone years of television where live broadcasts featured programmes shot within the confines of a multi-camera studio and bound by theatrical conventions. Pemberton & Shearsmith spoke about how ‘Inside No. 9’ was in many ways a throwback to this era of television (“Also it harks back to the ethos of ‘Inside No. 9’, which is ‘Play for Today’ and ‘Armchair Thriller’ thing”) (Reece Shearsmith) [3]

The one notable thing that the production team were reticent about was the studio they were going to use for the broadcast. Elliptical reference was made to it not having been finalised yet. Series producer, Adam Tandy, in a ‘Radio Times’ interview, where he talked about the logistics of “extra safeguards” being in place to ensure things didn’t go wrong (again those at the heart of the ‘Inside No. 9’ Halloween enterprise made sure press interviews anchored the connotation between live television and the chance of mishaps) enigmatically mentioned the studio chosen for the broadcast (“And I can’t confirm exactly where we’re filming it. We’re still trying to sort out the contracts and haven’t paid for it yet. Also, we don’t want people turning up on the night.”) (Adam Tandy) [4] ‘Inside No.9 Live’s central premise – spectres contaminating the studio equipment and disrupting the transmission (which was how it unfolded on the night) made Tandy’s “we don’t want people turning up on the night” line a sly wink-of-the-eye seeding.

Then a couple of days ahead of ‘Inside No. 9’s live broadcast a bizarre news story appeared in the ‘Daily Star’ (and then repeated in ‘The Sun’ the very next day) The headline ran ‘Spooked by Hilda Ogden’ and under the subheading ‘Inside No. 9 Halloween Special’ it reported that “Corrie’s ghosts have scared off the cast of the cult comedy.”[5] It revealed how the site of the old Granada studios was the location Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith had wanted to use for the special but BBC bosses had done a U-turn after it emerged some of ‘Coronation Street’s dead cast members reportedly haunted the place. Adding more spice to the phantasm brew the article informed readers a Catholic priest had been called in to perform an exorcism there in 2017 after a band rehearsing at the disused location were spooked when some of their equipment exploded: “BBC chiefs decided they could not risk any on-air mishaps or glitches when the live show goes out on Sunday.”[6]

A piece of tabloid frippery – the Granada site was nixed due to logistical practicalities (as producer Adam Tandy explained in a post-transmission ‘Broadcast’ magazine piece) but the hyperbole added even more grist to the programme publicity mill. The ‘Inside No. 9’ angle in the ‘Daily Star’ story must surely have come from the production team, as it was so perfectly aligned with what transpired during the live broadcast on the evening of the 28th October.

The anticipatory conditioning produced by the publicity added layer after layer of expectation onto the Halloween special, building a framework of plausibility around it in order to influence viewers’ receptiveness as they watched ‘Inside No.9 Live’. The meticulous care involved in the set-up – its multilayeredness, scope and the carefully staged release of information – was pranking of the highest order. “A lot of prep, a lot of build-up” indeed. The seeding was a mix of truth, embellishment, nuanced suggestion and fakery and it was worked quite brilliantly by the creators and their producer: The excitement attached to a live broadcast partly because of the possibility of something going wrong; the safeguards in place for that eventuality; alluding to “like how they used to do it” televisual past of live broadcasting with multi-camera filming and theatrical conventions to the fore; establishing the scenario and characters of ‘Dead Line’ in order to secure the audience’s prior knowledge; late in the day references to hauntings and ghosts (Pemberton & Shearsmith’s appearance on BBC One’s ‘The One Show’ another case in point); the question mark hanging over the studio location.

Journalists who disseminated dutifully and produced the write-ups were magnificently manipulated as Pemberton, Shearsmith and Tandy, in cahoots with the BBC’s publicity department, harnessed mainstream and social media and seeded away mischievously, prodigiously propagating duplicity. The misdirection was exemplary in aim, execution and effect. Most people readying themselves to watch the live special really did expect a traditional multi-camera live studio experience. Even the continuity announcer’s “stand by studio” as the broadcast was about to begin chimed with those conventions from the past.

Inside No. 9 Live

The pretence was an act of creative genius by Pemberton & Shearsmith because in truthfully revealing the starting point of ‘Dead Line’ – what viewers actually watched in its opening few minutes – there was a credibility which grounded the manipulation with a credence that audiences might not otherwise have accepted, given ‘Inside No.9’s reputation is about ripping away the comfort blanket of expectation.  With ‘Inside No.9 Live’ Pemberton & Shearsmith’s epithet as mirth-makers of the macabre was transformed into that of magicians of Mephistopheles (its etymological breakdown being ‘mephis’ – disperser/scatterer and ‘tophel’ – plasterer of lies)

‘Inside No.9 Live’ begins in accordance with what viewers had been led to expect. Arthur Flitwick enters his flat (a No. 9 jack-o-lantern pumpkin next to his front door), unpacks his shopping including a mobile phone he’d found in the graveyard of the local church, turns on the radio and busies himself in the kitchen. Suddenly a disquieting, disembodied voice is heard to utter “he’s stopped breathing” (possibly “and stop breathing” –  it is too indistinct to be sure) It’s muted, an almost imperceptible aural interference (easily confused with the voices on the radio) but it is there, coming from nowhere, seemingly floating in the ether, a queasy invasion of an ordinary domestic setting. It is an off-kilter moment that catches us unawares. The story then continues normally enough. We are introduced to a second character – Moira O’Keefe – who Arthur calls on the mobile phone, her number being the last one dialled on it. Five minutes in – as Arthur is paid a visit by the local vicar, the slightly creepy Reverend Neil (who’s been enrolled to help reunite the mobile phone with its owner) – the sound cuts out, leaving the actors silently conversing in character and viewers perturbed that important plot elements might be being missed. Brief fragments of conversation between the vicar and Arthur fade in and out before we cut to a continuity caption screen “We are sorry for the break in this programme and are trying to correct the fault” and a convincingly apologetic continuity announcer. A return to the developing three hander of ‘Dead Line’ is briefly attempted before BBC Two admits defeat and announces the postponement of the live episode. Instead in its place they repeat ‘A Quiet Night In’ (the irony of which is pleasingly indicative of the playfulness to come) from series one. At precisely nine minutes in, as the opening titles for ‘A Quiet Night In’ roll, the convincing fissuring of the live broadcast is accomplished with pitch perfect authenticity.

Playing with the recognisable live broadcasting tropes of technical faults, false restarts and unscheduled replacement programmes, which the watching audience is undoubtedly familiar with, the duplicitousness is the culmination of the misdirection and seeding we’d been fed in the weeks leading up to the event. The unfolding brilliance of the narrative disruption is so very finely tuned and consummately timed that it’s a stunningly choreographed technical feat in itself.

The turbulence in the minds of viewers caused by the apparent shattering of their broadcast experience, of the promised and looked forward to live edition of ‘Inside No.9’, was a bold strategy to undertake and Pemberton & Shearsmith are magisterial in the way they push it as far as possible in a daring ‘who will blink first’ game with the audience. Not only is a tightrope being walked by appearing to run a repeat almost a third of the way into the scheduled live programme but ‘A Quiet Night In’ is shown for as long as running time practicalities would allow – a minute and a half – to lull us into accepting that what is happening live before our eyes is real – namely, an actual safeguard solution initiated because of a live broadcast technical disaster. It ran the risk of disappointed viewers switching their TVs off or changing channels, but the creators hold firm in carrying out their sublimely conceived mischief to the hilt.

It is then that Pemberton & Shearsmith finally show their impeccable creative hand as the playfulness becomes clear and the true intentions of ‘Inside No.9’ are unveiled, when a ghoulish apparition in Victorian dress suddenly appears on ‘A Quiet Night’s In’s playout, eerily superimposed onto the original programme.

The beautifully delineated build-up routed through the lead-in hoax ‘Dead Line’ subtly imparts narrative elements that dominate the live special once the carapace of pretence has been broken with ‘A Quiet Night In’s ghostly takeover: Flitwick has a distinctly Dickensian ring to it and the name Evangeline (mentioned as being the daughter of Elsie Mitchell, who is the owner of the lost mobile phone) is decidedly old-fashioned. This understated evocation of the past – the Victorian past – gently seeds the main thematic at play in ‘Inside No.9 Live’, namely, the past haunting the present in insidious ways. It is this intersecting of the past and the present – the clash between old versus modernity – which is slyly advanced in the opening minutes of the fabricated story when we hear the disembodied voice (“stopped breathing”) and again when Arthur answers the ringing mobile phone he found only to hear a morass of white noise (and barely distinguishable vocals) at the other end of the line.  These strange, brief and elusive interludes kindle a feeling of an oblique counter live broadcast being attempted, one that once we’ve seen the Victorian wraith inserted into ‘A Quiet Night In’ implicitly infers figurative and literal  ‘ghosts in the machine’ machinations. There is even a touch of meta intertextuality pitched into the mix of the fake ‘Dead Line’ as Arthur Flitwick’s phone number is a direct reference to The League of Gentlemen’s infamous character, Pop.

Dead Line

When the predetermined expectations of ‘Inside No.9 Live’ are overturned and a story saturated in hyperreality is unleashed, the lightly scattered nuances encountered in the counterfeit tale are carried over and foregrounded. For the remainder of ‘Inside No. 9 Live’ Pemberton & Shearsmith’s storytelling expands to new experimental heights. Taking advantage of the scope of multimedia, the Halloween special is transformed into a cleverly constructed, playful and stimulating work, dissecting and rupturing narrative form, using the template of postmodernism. There are several distinct realities interacting and interceding on the other in the live broadcast, all of which play a part in creating the overarching hyperreality of the piece.

The hyperreality has been with us from the start – or taking into account the pre-broadcast manipulation and misdirection of the publicity build-up, even before that – because Arthur Flitwick, Reverend Neil, Moira O’Keefe and the mock ‘Dead Line’ are an essential part of the thing too in terms of the immersive ‘liveness’ of the event as it unfurls in intense, unpredictable, unforgettable ways.

Pemberton & Shearsmith’s creative intentions for ‘Inside No.9 Live’ are two-fold: Devising an episode where the viewing experience is greatly enhanced by watching it live and producing a story which achieves the distinctive high standards its creators have an enviable reputation for.

Seeing it as-it-happens in the context of ‘Inside No.9’s live broadcast crucially allows doubt to be put in the audience’s mind over what is real, what is fake – where does the reality of what they’re watching begin and end? Viewers are propelled into an absorbing, mesmerising mind game being played on them by the creators as each of ‘Inside No.9 Live’ concurrent realities are built, developed and carefully interwoven into the disruptive narrative as a whole.

The invigorating, heightened form of experience that ‘liveness’ brings adds piquancy for the audience during those moments which entertainingly fixate on and emphasis the fact it is live. The apotheosis for this is reached with Reece Shearsmith’s live tweet to viewers during the show as he plays himself stranded in the dressing room of the television studio due to ‘Dead Line’s technical breakdown: ‘Are me and Steve Pemberton on BBC Two now?’ It is a moment of pure meta origami, so extraordinary are its intricate layers: Shearsmith, playing a version of himself, invites the audience to take part and respond to what they’re watching live – to play an active role in the meta reality of it all.  Moments like this help to make the fact the Halloween special is live an integral part of the experience and how it is best appreciated.

Dead Line tweet

Pemberton & Shearsmith’s other main aim for ‘Inside No.9 Live’ is to ensure the story – and the way it is told – has their prerequisite hallmark of invention, complexity and meticulous attention to detail. Their tale for Halloween takes the trope of supernatural hauntings and transforms it into an extraordinary postmodern viewing experience of immersive hyperreality. Not only do the creators take the conventional parameters of a live broadcast and shatter them they also give us their own idiosyncratic take on a ghost story for the multimedia age.

The writers’ penchant for experimental storytelling is showcased to brilliant effect in ‘Inside No.9 Live’. Its hyperreality (which is the overriding ‘thing’ of the live special) is realised through the interplay of various realities criss-crossing within the complex narrative once the game is afoot and we’re in post-technical breakdown/post fake ‘Dead Line’ territory. Relocated to the innards of the television studios through a roaming camera’s eye, live time is signalled by a digital code clock display on the top right hand corner of the screen, informing viewers that ‘Inside No.9’ is still on air, still live, still happening, but in a very different way to what audiences had been lead to expect.

The constructed realities exist as distinct elements at first – separate entities in the interruptive narrative structure of ‘Inside No.9 Live’ as a whole. As the live broadcast continues there is leakage as the narrative builds and develops which starts to obliterate the space between them. The realities deployed by Pemberton & Shearsmith in the Halloween special can be defined as mythos/myth reality, meta reality and established reality.

Mythos/myth reality:  Superstitious notions surrounding the existence of ghosts and haunted places cursed by bad luck no longer have the social and cultural hold on communities that they once did. Urban myth has replaced folklore and traditional beliefs and it is here stories concerning supernatural experiences and rumours about paranormal activities coalesce, to be enjoyed almost ironically, as a form of popular entertainment and tabloid excess.

Assiduously chosen archive footage is the audience’s gateway in to the mythos reality constructed for ‘Inside No.9 Live’, one reflecting the urban mythology about ghosts, with its strong link to popular culture: Bobby Davro’s wince-inducing accident during the filming of a 1990s television game show is the first archive clip viewers see. Its inclusion at first appears to be completely random and rather odd but it’s entwined into the enveloping narrative, its relevance later seeded by Pemberton, with the accident being an example of the ‘curse’ that’s befallen Granada studios; several well-chosen and cleverly edited sequences from a 2005 edition of ‘Most Haunted’ investigating ghostly goings on at the Manchester studios of ‘Coronation Street’ includes the startling revelation that the Granada studios are sited next to a Victorian mass grave.

The archive recordings are used to aggrandise the urban myth about Granada studios being haunted and struck by bad luck because of it. The clips provide ‘evidence’ to furnish ‘Inside No.9 Live’s ‘ghosts in the machine’ thematic with ‘facts’, giving the mythos reality thread the semblance of ‘truth’.

Dead Line

The hyperreality which distinguishes the live special – where the line between reality and a simulation of it is eroded, making it harder for viewers to perceive what is real and what isn’t –  culminates in the seamless editing of a faked news report straight into an authentic clip. The fictitious news report concerning the suicide of Alan Starr, a television studio props man suffering from a diagnosed psychosis, who’d been convinced ghosts had infected the TV studio equipment, is audacious approximation of fake reportage to that of genuine archive footage. Placing it directly before a real clip – a 1980s ‘Granada Reports’  news story about a fire at a warehouse used by Granada studios to store sets and props – helps to blur the line between fact and fiction, dissolving reality to the status of myth/mythos.

The inclusion of archive material in ‘Inside No. 9 Live’ is reminiscent of the documentaries of film-maker Adam Curtis, who makes striking use of old film and TV clips to help explain how power works in society. In choosing an array of archive clips for the live special Pemberton & Shearsmith are attempting to show how myth is shaped and developed to a level of prominence, attaining the stature (and weight) of reality behind it to exert an influential grip on the imagination.

What’s more, the decision to feature old clips in the live broadcast was a creative one done to convey how archive footage is used to reconstruct the past in the present. Archives represent the past captured and preserved forever. Film and television recordings are a powerful manifestation of and link to the past – a representation of the images and voices of the dead emblematically caught and trapped in celluloid, video or digital aspic. Pemberton & Shearsmith subtly suggest that the dead are mechanically ‘imprisoned’, with the potential to be reanimated and resurrected repeatedly. It is an idea they posit as a figural ‘ghosts in the machine’ adjunct to the main literal ‘ghosts in the machine’ theme of ‘Inside No.9 Live’. In the closing moments of the special, just after viewers have witnessed Pemberton & Shearsmith’s apparent deaths on live television at the hands of the studio invading ghosts, there is a brief clip of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s 25th October 2018 appearance on ‘The One Show’ immediately followed by their ‘A Quiet Night In’ characters’ gunshot-to-the-head deaths replayed again and again and again.

The juxtaposing of these recordings are as if the ghosts infecting the TV studio equipment have again intervened in the live broadcast to insert their own dark, mockingly ironic joke at Pemberton & Shearsmith’s expense. Inserting these particular clips into the narrative gives explicit expression to the figurative ‘ghosts in the machine’ symbolism attached to archive footage as the mechanical representation of the dead, which enables the past to be placed into the present in potentially disquieting and disturbing ways.

Meta reality:  Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton playing recognisable versions of themselves in ‘Inside No.9 Live’ is self-referentiality at its most sustained and brilliantly realised. ‘Inside No.9’ has never been as playfully knowing as it is here, with the meta designed to serve a purpose beyond humorous intent. Seen waiting around in their studio dressing room after the live broadcast has been unceremoniously halted, searching the abandoned studio backstage and interacting with guest actress Stephanie Cole (also playing ‘herself’) the duo’s established personas are ones which many viewers – and fans especially – would be familiar with as they’re the clearly defined heightened versions of themselves which Pemberton & Shearsmith have developed and played with since The League of Gentlemen (utilized for elements of the DVD commentaries and extras and most significantly in ‘The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse’ film)

Dead Line

The pair perform their meta selves to the hilt: Shearsmith is prickly, full of pent-up anger and quick to deliver to a barbed remark (“Start again? Pathetic”; “No-one knows that anyway. Who fucking cares?  It’s not even Halloween.”) Pemberton is placatory and even-tempered, a yang to his writing partner’s yin. The meta reality strand of ‘Inside No.9 Live’ recalls Pemberton & Shearsmith’s extraordinary ‘SoundCloud’ commentaries for series two of ‘Inside No.9’ which they posted online for fans. A sublime meta creation of edgy pranking, it pushed the boundaries of discomfort due to the highly convincing enactment of a bickering, needling relationship tailspinning into resentment, toxic anger and finally violence. The ‘SoundCloud’ commentaries were such a memorably visceral experience because the meta made it feel so close to the bone. Similarly, the meta reality constructed for the Halloween special intensifies viewers’ experience of the live broadcast because the watching audience is almost made to feel like they’re an unseen character in it. Much of Pemberton & Shearsmith’s dressing room conversations (seen from a high angle camera to make viewers feel like they’re eavesdropping on them) centre around what viewers are thinking and saying online about the disaster of the abandoned live broadcast of ‘Dead Line’. As they wait around with nothing to do, they spend time on their smartphones gleaning the social media reaction (“What’s going on with ‘Inside No.9’? Is this part of the twist? Oh do fuck off.” Reece Shearsmith) (“I bet everyone thinks we’ve deliberately done it.” Steve Pemberton) Pemberton & Shearsmith’s meta foregrounding of the audience as they anticipate predictable social media cynicism in relation to ‘Inside No.9 Live’ increases viewers’ sense of participation in the live viewing experience. The creators’ references to them is an act of inclusion which helps to make the audience feel they’re interacting with the live event, most tangibly when Reece Shearsmith’s tweets during the live broadcast, soliciting viewers to respond. ‘Inside No.9 Live’s meta reality intensifies the audience’s emotional investment which comes from watching it live. They’re truly immersed in the experience of the liveness.

Pemberton & Shearsmith holding forth on the “totally impenetrable” ending advanced for (the fake) ‘Dead Line’ and Stephanie Cole’s shortcomings as Moira O’Keefe are the pair’s amplified versions of themselves having playful fun at their own expense (“I’ve got no interest in television.” Reece Shearsmith) and sharing that joke in an almost conspiratorial way with viewers. The meta reality implicates the audience in the ‘liveness’ in a participatory manner, almost as if they’re guests with a part to play. It involves a level of complicity on the part of the viewer – a willing party privy to the knowing intrigue created by Pemberton & Shearsmith. The audience recognises Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith are portraying versions of themselves – their meta ‘parts’ – but there is ambiguity about how far the exaggerated elements of their personas are pushed into the realms of invention. The hyperreality of the live special embraces those feelings of doubt in viewers’ minds about how real or contrived Pemberton & Shearsmith’s meta ‘selves’ are. It is another layer amongst a multiplicity of layers created by the complementary realities in ‘Inside No.9 Live’.

Dead Line

The intertextual referencing of other horror/supernatural works dotted around the meta reality thread adds further nuances to the narrative palette. They’re an acknowledgement by Pemberton & Shearsmith of their creative influences and inspirations and are, by implication, visual citations which the audience is encouraged to pick up on and identify: The wallpaper in Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s studio dressing room is an exact reproduction of the hexagon patterned carpet in the Overlook Hotel from Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’; the ghostly image of studio props man Alan Starr (who we’d earlier been told had killed himself at the television studios) looming into view in the background as the camera tracks across the empty studio, his face framed by the window of a door, recalls the creepy appearance of the menacing Peter Quint at a window in the 1961 film ‘The Innocents’; Steve Pemberton’s practical joke on Reece Shearsmith – jumping out in the dark at him wearing a scary rubber mask – is a direct reference to BBC’s 1992 ‘Ghostwatch’ in which the exact same prank is pulled by Craig Charles.

Established reality: The deception generated for the ‘Inside No.9’ episode that never was – ‘Dead Line’ – is the live special’s established reality and remains a reference point even when the mythos/myth and meta realities take over and drive the narrative into hyperreality experimentation. Not only does the pre-broadcast publicity misdirection leave remnants because ‘Dead Line’ became a stated ‘fact’ in the weeks beforehand, but in its few minutes of existence before rupturing ‘Dead Line’s conventional narrative offers subtle portents (oblique allusions to the Victorian age, technology being subjected to snatches of audio interference) of what is to come. The unsettling ‘ghosts in the machine’ intrigue advanced in the post-‘Dead Line’ reality threads are forged in the established reality of those opening scenes.

The hoax ‘Dead Line’ is revisited in the midst of the two simultaneous realities with the partial playback of the rehearsal tape. Pemberton & Shearsmith’s painstaking attentiveness is such that the contrivance of ‘Dead Line’ is still crafted with an exacting level of detail, maintaining adherence to the illusion as real – that it was the ‘Inside No.9’ story they’d planned to broadcast live. The faking of this established reality is observed with utmost care. The ‘fact’ a ‘rehearsal tape’ exists sustains the pretence to its logical conclusion –  the recorded rehearsal of ‘Dead Line’ was the workaround solution in place in case things went wrong with the live broadcast.

The rehearsal tape gives viewers the opportunity to see ‘Dead Line’s interrupted story re-established, with Pemberton & Shearsmith providing enough elliptical exposition in the lines exchanged by Arthur Flitwick and Moira O’Keefe to stitch the broken tale back together again and move it forward with credible semblance. The plot progression involving a will bequest as a motive for murder was subtly seeded in ‘Dead Line’s first scene, with the advert for a will-writing company playing on the radio in Arthur’s kitchen. Pemberton & Shearsmith even layer the ‘fake’ script of ‘Dead Line’ with their customary meticulousness so that the established reality of the rehearsal tape is convincingly played out to the audience.

The established reality of ‘Dead Line’ briefly reignited through the rehearsal tape breaks down and is overtaken by meta reality when Stephanie Cole brings a halt to proceedings to ask about her character’s motivation. The earlier disagreement between Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith over what Shearsmith termed the ‘impenetrable’ ending then resurfaces as the tape continues to run and one form of reality replaces another.

Dead Line

As the live broadcast’s hyperreality narrative progresses we see the differentiated realities begin to bleed into each other as Pemberton & Shearsmith weave the threads together. This helps the audience start to see the events unfolding before them in connective rather than fragmentary terms as ‘Inside No.9 Live’ evolves from a high concept game of pranking into highly effective storytelling, which is what Pemberton & Shearsmith want to achieve above all else: The meta reality of Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith as ‘themselves’ in their dressing room sees Pemberton reading out urban myth stories he’d googled about Granada Studios being haunted, mentioning the suicide of a studio props man and the warehouse fire which destroyed costumes for ITV’s ‘A Jewel in the Crown’ drama series. It’s a forward signal to a part of the mythos reality strand which comes near the end of the special –  the faked news report about (the fictional) Alan Starr’s suicide and the archive ‘Granada Reports’ clip about Granada studios’ warehouse fire. The diffused mixing of meta and myth realities heightens the uncertainty which is the key to the live broadcast – how much of it is real and where does the fabrication begin and end?

The Victorian costumed apparition spotted in the corner of the TV studio green room is a visual representation of the mythos reality invading the meta reality of the studio setting, which it increasingly does as the live broadcast continues. The myth reality interpolation of the meta reality begins to dominate ‘Inside No.9 Live’ as the creeping unease – suggested by the prowling camera moving and observing every corner of the abandoned television studio – becomes an ever more menacing and palpable presence.

The climactic manifestation of myth reality’s physical and elemental permeation of meta reality occurs when Stephanie Cole’s meta self is possessed by unseen ghostly forces and becomes Alan Starr’s unwitting conduit (“Alan says they’ve always been here, before us, before the studios. We shouldn’t be here, this is their home.”) When she talks about the ghosts infecting the cables and television equipment and that the technology makes them stronger we hit a Knealesque seam of malignant strangeness, where the seemingly defunct title of the prank ‘Dead Line’ takes on dreadful new significance: The ghosts (the dead) invade the present and modern technology (television studio cables) is the route (line) they use. This is the moment in the live broadcast when the story – beyond the live phenomenon of the Halloween special – asserts itself, intertwining the threads of the different realities tighter and tighter together as the narrative gathers momentum towards its fatal conclusion.

With ‘Inside No.9 Live’, Pemberton & Shearsmith’s mission to find ever more imaginative ways to tell a story hits new heights of the sublime. Reeling off a list of superlatives feels superfluous when trying to describe the mesmerising impact of the Halloween special, both as a live event and as a work of artistic ingenuity.

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The logistics of the special – and its ambition – were on a scale not attempted by ‘Inside No.9’ before. It was not just the risky tightrope walk of the live broadcast itself but the scrupulous misdirection set-up of the pre-broadcast publicity behind it. The press releases and media interviews were a platform of inspired manipulation, the success of which was essential to the whole daring enterprise. The subterfuge needed to pull off such an inspired broadcasting hoax  must have taken intensive planning and a lot of hard work. That it was done with such aplomb is testament to all of ‘Inside No.9’s talented production team.

‘Inside No.9 Live’ also gave Pemberton & Shearsmith the welcome opportunity to experiment with narrative form once again and the hyperreality of the thing, in  conception and execution, involved a rich tapestry of complexity which was honed to perfection. The meta playfulness was one of the most striking elements of the Halloween special (and the first time meta has been used in an ‘Inside No.9’ story, although the standout online commentaries for series two of ‘Inside No.9’ may have sparked Pemberton & Shearsmith’s mischievous inclinations) and gave the episode some its funniest – and edgiest – moments.  The pair also anticipated the audience’s immersion and online interaction, informed and invigorated by the live experience, by skilfully interweaving it into the script. The fake elements punctuating the narrative were carefully placed, unobtrusive, delicately drawn and persuasively subtle so as not to draw attention to themselves. All of these components added shading and depth to the live special, as part of Pemberton & Shearsmith’s expansive creative canvas.

The multiple levels on which the narrative operated – the intersecting, competing realities  – and the degree of detail behind each of them – was quite extraordinary. The writing attained a density of layering and insightful juxtaposition that served both the brilliant execution of the live broadcast and the strength and supremacy of the story. It’s further proof – although surely none is needed – of Pemberton & Shearsmith’s remarkable talents as writers, which just seem to grow and expand with every new series of ‘Inside No. 9’.

There was an undeniable frisson of anticipation and excitement as ‘Inside No.9’s familiar opening titles began to roll at 10 o’clock on the evening of 28th October 2018. Just the fact it was being broadcast live, a comparatively rare thing nowadays (not pre-recorded and broadcast ‘as live’) gave it a significance that was the starting point for Pemberton & Shearsmith’s conspiring inventiveness. But what made it such a memorable, utterly unforgettable ‘event’ was the astonishing way it played with viewers’ expectations – and with narrative and broadcasting conventions – to completely upturn our perception of reality. The resulting palpable tension and audience exhilaration as it unfolded live on air was the singular artistry of Pemberton & Shearsmith at work and the Halloween special was their most ambitious ‘Inside No.9’ yet.

Even if you weren’t in front of a TV screen tuned to BBC Two and somehow managed to forgo the live thrill of the thing – and luxuriate in the unpredictability of it all – the exceptional quality and inherent rewatchability of this remarkable piece of pranking genius still makes it an unmissable creative work in the ‘Inside No.9’ canon. Accepting that, nothing can quite recapture what it meant or felt like to experience the maximum impact of it’s ‘live time’ broadcast.

Dead Line

Footnotes

  1. ‘The Times’ – ‘The Scariest Thing about Halloween? Corpsing in a live show’ (Dominic Maxwell) (26th October 2018)
  2. BBC Media Centre – ‘Q&A with Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’ (17th October 2018)
  3. As above.
  4. ‘Radio Times’ – ‘It’s Hard to Scare Us’ (Frances Taylor) (27th October-2nd November 2018)
  5. ‘Daily Star’ – ‘Spooked by Hilda Ogden’ (Peter Dyke and Edward Gleave) (26th October 2018)
  6. As above.

Writers…Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith

Director…Barbara Wiltshire

Producer…Claire McCarthy

Series Producer…Adam Tandy

Executive Producer…Jon Plowman

Associate Producers…Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith

Composer…Christian Henson

Cast

Arthur Flitwick/Himself…Steve Pemberton

Reverend Neil/Himself…Reece Shearsmith

Moira O’Keefe/Herself…Stephanie Cole

Alan Starr…Robin Berry

Laura Howarth (news reporter)…Chandrika Chevli

Older woman in radio advert (voice only)…Yvonne D’Alpra

Younger woman in radio advert (voice only)…Emma Stannard

Radio presenter (voice only)…Rich Keeble

Ghost…Sophie Juge

Ghost…Connie Wilkins

BBC Two continuity announcer (voice only)…Beccy Wright

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Inside No. 9 Review: Series Four: ‘Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room’

*contains spoilers*

“Yes, if you’re going to cry, cry tears of laughter. Your funny bone can never break in two…But laughter is my memory of you…” (Tommy Drake and Len Shelby, ‘Tears of Laughter’: ‘Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room’)

Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith can wreck your heart like no-one else when they want to. Their writing makes you feel a character’s pain or journey with the sharp intensity of a deeply personal experience, in a way their contemporaries can’t even get close to. Drama and comedy are never far apart for the pair and they know exactly how to time their use, to hold back on one or give both equal prominence in a scene for maximum effect, in order to heighten the impact.

When writing as accomplished and sublime as this is allied with Pemberton & Shearsmith’s supreme acting talent – and the pathos and empathy they bring to almost every role they play – then the results can be genuinely palpable, as in the case of their second story for series four of ‘Inside No. 9’ – the exceptional ‘Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room’. Hailed as a classic by fans and critics alike and garnering universal praise, the reaction to it has been nothing short of phenomenal. It has touched and moved people on a scale comparable to the duo’s series two No. 9 ‘The 12 Days of Christine’.

The mark of genius in any creative work is in its ‘rewatchability’, in being able to revisit and see new things there each time you return. ‘Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room’ has this inbuilt into it because feelings and reactions are intensified – its layers more viscerally experienced – when the realisation of what you are watching is revealed at the end. The story’s meaning changes and what was bittersweet, melancholic and poignant deepens by degrees. With the knowledge of hindsight the narrative becomes inconsolably sadder, emotionally devastating and genuinely profound.

Bernie Clifton's Dressing Room

Multilayered and interwoven with psychological depth, the script is miraculous – a thing of beauty – full of tenderness and sensitivity, deeply humane and acutely affecting.

The story opens in a dusty church hall. A stage props basket stamped with a ‘9’ is wheeled across the floor by a soberly dressed, middle-aged man. The props basket is the cradle for memories, figuratively and literally. The musical accompaniment – the sound of a solo horn playing – is mournful. It evokes a downbeat atmosphere, brimming with sadness and puts a strong sense of the patina of the past into our minds right from the start.

The man, Tommy (‘Thomas’) Drake, finds an old script in the basket, browned with age. He silently watches as another middle-aged man – Len Shelby – arrives, loaded down with bags containing more props. The two men are a former comedy duo, Cheese & Crackers, representatives of the traditional school of comedy, an old fashioned double act straight from the crumbling bastion of variety, who experienced modest success in the 1980s – the “arse end of variety” as Tommy realistically puts it. This was a time when British comedy was starting to undergo a transformation, as cultural shifts and societal changes meant acts such as Cheese & Crackers were vulnerable to changing tastes, where judgments concerning what was funny were beginning to be placed within acceptable and unacceptable frames of reference. They were a comedy pairing who were almost out of time at the height of their career.

Bernie Clifton's Dressing Room

The reason for their coming together again after their break-up 30 years before is only elliptically referred to a couple of times as a ‘last gig’. It is not expanded upon – the who, the what and the why of it is not discussed. The reason for their split is likewise not mentioned.

The dynamics of their relationship are mesmerisingly explored in what is virtually a two-hander between Pemberton & Shearsmith, the first for an ‘Inside No. 9’. The narrative absorbingly studies these two characters – Tommy Drake and Len Shelby – with a deep focus examination of their very different personalities. Over the course of 30 minutes, Tommy and Len and their act are magnified, scrutinized and dissected until we arrive at the truth regarding the cause of their break-up and what lies behind their “one last gig to an invited audience” reunion.

The depth of characterisation is remarkable, both in terms of the layered observations and psychological nuances established by the script and in the wonderful performances of Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. These are fully rounded character portrayals, multifaceted and emotionally complex. That this is so brilliantly realised in just half an hour is an astonishing achievement in itself, quite apart from the fact that the script is also working on another thematic level underneath this at the same time.

Within just the first few minutes of being introduced to them we are given a very definite sense of Tommy and Len’s characters. Tommy is serious-minded, dour, analytical and a realist. Len radiates a overtly fulsome cheerfulness but there are strong hints of desperation beneath this happy-go-lucky persona, in the heavy reliance on jokey ripostes and in his over-friendly neediness as he seeks Tommy’s acquiescence. His optimism counters Tommy’s pragmatism but there are indications that the unrealistic dreamer in him carries with it a trace of carelessness and irresponsibility, which stands in contrast to Tommy’s exactitude and methodical approach to comedy and life in general.

This dichotomy is apparent when they rehearse one of their old sketches. Using the format of a job interview, it relies on a quick succession of silly foreign accents and stock comic stereotypes for its laughs, positing Cheese & Crackers’ comedy shtick straight out of the 1980s. They’re inescapably one of those run-of-the-mill, middle-of-the-bill comedy double acts that were a mainstay of television entertainment shows of that era and somewhat dated even then.

The interview sketch shows the chasm between the pair – that was insinuated from the start – widening still further as they argue about the nature of comedy. Tommy labels it as racist and impossible to perform now: “What’s the joke? What are you inviting people to laugh at exactly?” Instinctive and reductive in his approach, Len thinks there’s nothing wrong with it, getting a laugh is all that matters to him: “Just a man doing all daft voices.” He reiterates this ‘end justifies the means’ attitude, defending the idea of cheap laughs, when Tommy castigates the poor material of another of their routines: “Oh come on, a laugh’s a laugh however you word it.” Their disagreement over the interview skit is about much more than comedy – it articulates something about the men themselves. The nuanced difference in the terminology they use when they argue is telling – ‘racist’ (Tommy) and ‘racialist’ (Len) It sets them worlds apart, with Tommy firmly in the present and apparently wanting to forget his past and Len behind the times and defiantly stuck there.

Bernie Clifton's Dressing Room

The forceful tone Tommy takes to warn his former partner against resorting to his old attention seeking antics of mugging to the audience to draw a laugh his way illustrates there is a difficult history between them and that Tommy’s long-held resentments from 30 years before have not been forgotten: “You’d look out and take it as if you’d earned the laugh. Don’t.” What is strongly inferred by Len’s desire to get laughs wherever possible – and by all means necessary – is a deep-rooted insecurity which manifests itself as a desperate need for approval, a need which is fulfilled by making people laugh – the one way he knows to feel liked and admired. This means ‘success’ to him professionally and one that crosses over into personal necessity.

The interplay between Tommy and Len reinforces the marked differences between them at every turn and implies a reason why their lives took such different paths after their break-up. Tommy’s innate ability to plan, organise and analyse, his role as the ‘sensible’ one of the partnership, the ease with which he slips into leadership mode, signifies natural business acumen and helps explain his post show business success, running his own digital marketing company. His small and neat salt and pepper beard suggests Tommy’s (‘Thomas’) adherence to corporate etiquette, always mindful of projecting the correct image to clientele. He is everything that Len is not and vice versa. Len’s almost complete lack of discipline,  his outmoded ways, his dated thoughts on comedy and knee-jerk dismissal of a more considered approach to it, indicates a more reckless, careless attitude to life, which may account for things having gone wrong for him after Cheese & Crackers. His life has indeed hit the doldrums and he admits as much to Tommy when he owns up to now being homeless.

Len’s countenance and unkempt appearance are just as revealing. His dishevelment and the unhealthy red tinge to his skin, the colour associated with the heavily permeating effects of alcohol, hint “that things haven’t been great for you the last few years” as Tommy gently observes.

Subtle changes in Len’s behaviour begin to emerge and escalate as he and Tommy continue to rehearse old sketches, reminisce about their career and discuss the finer points of comedy. He becomes several shades more argumentative, critical, selfish and unpleasant and far less inclined to apologetically defer to the unenthusiastic Tommy to keep him on side. It is the lairy actions of someone emboldened by drink.

Bernie Clifton's Dressing Room

It starts with a surreptitious little nip of whisky in a mug of tea and progresses to a blatant swig from a bottle of beer used as a prop in an old vent sketch he and Tommy try out. When Tommy opens the beer bottle ahead of the run-through he becomes broodily lost in his own thoughts to the extent that midway through the sketch he suddenly halts it with a pained “I can’t. I can’t bear it.” He makes the excuse that it was due to the terrible material of the routine but lingering is the implicit intimation that the bottle of beer aroused tense feelings and difficult memories for Tommy and triggered that reaction from him.

Len’s drink-induced obnoxiousness make the interactions between him and Tommy increasingly contentious and embittered. His confrontational diatribes condemn and blame his former partner, both professionally and personally: “You’re like a shark. You’ve got dead, black eyes”; “You were no fun then. You’ve always been miserable”; “That’s why it all dried up for us. People could sense it…You killed Cheese & Crackers, Tommy.”

Tommy’s evasiveness and reluctance to directly challenge Len with the painful truth regarding the problematic frictions in their relationship and the reason why Cheese & Crackers broke-up are discernible from the start. We can see he finds it easier to divert any long-held recriminatory feelings by instead voicing dissatisfaction with their material, Len’s approach to comedy and his tendency to try and draw all the laughs to him. When Tommy briefly alludes to the Bernie Clifton’s dressing room incident a minute’s silence follows between the pair, both unable to confront its significance or the uncomfortable memories it elicits. Instead an awkward moment is left hanging in the air. However his partner’s growing hostility – and the drinking that precipitates it – make Tommy decide to at last address the dressing room issue directly by invoking it through the re-enactment of Cheese & Cracker’s ‘Brown Bottles’ routine.

An old-fashioned variety skit based on the ‘Ten Green Bottles’ song, the ‘Brown Bottles’ sketch coalesces with painful memories for Tommy which are ignited when he sings its altered lyrics as Len proceeds to drink the contents from ten bottles of beer lined up along the mocked-up wall. There is a catch in Tommy’s voice as he continues through to the end of the song, his repressed emotions returning as he sees Len become increasingly inebriated as each bottle is removed and drunk from. The tension between the silliness of the comedy and the agony and torment that it represents for one of the comedy partners builds and intensifies. The routine culminates with the pay-off joke of Tommy smashing the one remaining bottle over Len’s head who then comically keels over. At the same instance Tommy stops singing and says pointedly and with real vehemence behind it “And no more wall!”

Bernie Clifton's Dressing Room

Standing as the signifier for the end of the Cheese & Crackers partnership, the skit condenses the reasons behind the break-up into several minutes of skilfully executed comic business. Facing the traumatic memories it represents head on is a cathartic experience for Tommy and enables him to finally confront Len with the long suppressed truth – it was his heavy drinking that ended Cheese & Crackers: “You’re an alcoholic…And Bernie Clifton’s dressing room was the last straw.” Finding Len passed out drunk in the dressing room, choking on his own vomit after he’d abruptly left his partner alone on stage during a performance of the ‘Brown Bottles’ sketch at the Glasgow Pavilion, confirmed to Tommy that neither of them could struggle on as an act when it was destroying them both. The pressure of supporting a self-destructive partner, of being the stable one, the dependable one, the person that Len leant on – a figurative wall fortifying the partnership and their relationship  – was making Tommy miserable “so I walked away” in order to save himself and save Len (“And no more wall”) sacrificing his career for his partner’s sake.

This intense, compelling scene is one of ‘Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room’ high points, the writing and acting utterly transfixing and full of dramatic impetus. Psychologically complex and emotionally penetrating, the lines are loaded with subtext and nuance which implicitly link to earlier insights we have heard about both men (Tommy castigated for being a misery, Len’s annoying attempts at stealing laughs) They entwine and align with Tommy’s revelatory explanation for the demise of Cheese & Crackers, underpinning his account – and the scene – with a real sense of emotive truth.

‘Brown Bottles’ stands as both a perfectly formed parody of a variety era comedy sketch and as an allegorical representation of the tensions in the Cheese & Crackers partnership that lay at the heart of their break-up. The ten bottles of beer symbolise the scale of Len’s drinking (numerous real-life examples testify to alcohol being the numbing drug of choice for comedians) and the wall on which they’re balanced evokes Tommy’s solid support – as the ‘straight man’ of the act and in the way he’s holding up a partner led astray by booze. Comedy double acts are built on frangible foundations and vulnerable to fractures, reliant as they are on something as arbitrary and subjective as laughter for their survival. Timing and trust are vital in a partnership creating such a fragile concoction and febrile brew. When that trust is betrayed as fundamentally as Len does with Tommy, leaving him literally alone on stage – his comic timing floundering without a partner to bounce off – then the fissures can’t be mended. Trust – and their friendship – has been broken.

Even at this climactic point of tumultuous confrontation and turmoil, Pemberton & Shearsmith balance it with a blackly comic line when Tommy directly refers to Bernie Clifton’s well-known stage prop: “He had to destroy that ostrich, you know” (after Len had vomited over it in his alcohol-induced state) Putting it into the midst of such potent pain to heighten and then release tension is testament to their daring and brilliance.

This powerful scene of intense emotion, centred on the traumatic background to a painful break-up between two friends, achieves its mesmerising depth and such a  forceful hold on our feelings through the committed and heartbreakingly truthful performances of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton. It becomes almost too painful to watch at times because it feels so real, with the eyes of both actors filling with tears at its apex.

Bernie Clifton's Dressing Room

If ‘Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room’ had ended on that confessional climax it would have been an extraordinary work in terms of emotional resonance and poignant power but the audience is then presented with the revelation that Tommy is here to attend Len’s funeral with the arrival of his daughter Leanne, who hands Tommy the order of service and tells him her dad wanted the funeral to be a celebration – “One last gig to an invited audience”. What we had really been watching was Tommy’s mind’s eye, imagining his former partner in that dusty church hall with him as he waited alone with his memories before the start of the service. All at once the story we’ve seen is suffused with new meaning as another level – and new meaning – is revealed in an already densely layered script. It’s the realisation that the Cheese & Crackers reunion is one being played out in Tommy’s imagination and that in reality they’re reuniting only in metaphorical terms, with Tommy returning to deliver a eulogy for his former comedy partner.

The disclosure of the story’s ending is there in plain sight but not discernible without foreknowledge. Those seeded moments and subtle details which permeate the script are only seen and appreciated in retrospect, when what we see and hear are reinterpreted with acquired understanding and we are alert to clues: Tommy’s first words to Len “I wondered if you were going to turn up”  is now filled with telling ambiguity and imbued with double meaning; his vexed “Let’s just get on with it, shall we? I haven’t got long” suggests a sense of urgency in Tommy, preparing himself for the impending funeral and interrupted by memories flooding back to him; the number of times the camera captures Tommy silently observing Len in an almost detached manner, as if in a contemplative mood alone with his own thoughts, thinking about and remembering his friend; the touching simplicity of the exchange “Why have you come then?” (Len) “How could I not?” (Tommy)

The script is expertly structured to suggest Tommy’s imagination has put him and Len back in the room together in order for him to try and work through not only his sense of loss but also the inevitable ambiguous feelings and the resentment he’s lived with for 30 years, since being let down by Len on that fateful night at the Glasgow Pavilion. The depicted one-to-one and increasingly confrontational conversations with his former partner masterfully portray Tommy’s mind trying to come to terms with the emotional impact of “unfinished business” that Len’s death has left him with. The imagined exchanges become a psychological way in, a way of enabling him to say things he had long wanted to express but hadn’t got the chance to when Len was alive.  Tommy’s memories come forth to gather his thoughts and recall his feelings about his late partner, building a narrative and constructing stories in order to make sense of, and attempt to resolve, the contentious elements in their relationship that had accumulated over the years.  In the end we all become a part of someone else’s stories and memories of us and the beautifully crafted writing depicts this in the most profoundly moving way.

Bernie Clifton's Dressing Room

When we fully grasp what we’ve actually been watching it is truly devastating but Pemberton & Shearsmith then intensify the heart-rending jolt even further by delivering the agonising pathos of the letter left for Tommy by Len. Containing £25 and a message written on the back of an old Cheese & Crackers flyer “For Bernie Clifton’s dressing room. Sorry I messed up”, the money represents the amount Tommy paid to replace Bernie Clifton’s destroyed ostrich costume, but it’s the message that really matters, affectingly settling Tommy and Len’s “unresolved business.” It hadn’t been “too late” as Tommy had feared. Encapsulating what their partnership had really meant to Len, it’s a touching last gesture from one friend to another.

The audience is taken to the heights of emotional intensity with this last revelation, the third within a very short space of time. The depth of the anguish it arouses goes beyond dramatic intent. Our hearts have been broken and our feelings devastated by what we’ve watched – the intertwined lives of two men, on a journey through pain, recrimination and finally forgiveness.

There is a redemptive coda in the form of a song and dance routine as Tommy’s imagination reunites him and Len one last time for a performance of Cheese & Crackers’ signature tune ‘Tears of Laughter’ – a cathartic release after the aching sadness. Highly reminiscent of Morecambe & Wise (the dance sequence is close in spirit – and choreography – to their ‘Two of a Kind’ number) Tommy’s memory at last seeks out the happiness his partnership with Len gave him and the song’s lyrics echo that sense of kinship, joy and optimism that comedy – and friendship – can offer as a counterpoint to life’s hardships and vicissitudes. It is both poignant and heart-warming – tears and laughter. ‘Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room’ is outstanding proof that storytellers and performers as supreme as Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith can break your heart and heal your soul at one and the same time.

Partners in comedy double acts not getting on with each other is a hoary show-business cliché but Pemberton & Shearsmith have taken that trope and made a work of creative genius from it. It is one of their most heartfelt and touching No.9s yet, emotive to the point of gut-wrenchingly moving. In part it is a meditation on the nature of comedy and how porous it is to the passage of time and the social and cultural changes that come with it. The script is charged with a feeling of the ‘remembrance of things past’ in terms of British cultural history of the 1970s and 1980s, which undoubtedly resonated with Pemberton & Shearsmith’s childhood memories of television and the old school comedy of those times. ‘Blankety Blank’, Ted Bovis, The Grumbleweeds, ‘Crackerjack’ and even ‘The Hair Bear Bunch’ are all referenced.

Primarily though it’s about the nature of friendship that is built from a close working relationship and what happens when that’s compromised or breaks down completely, when long developed trust has been destroyed. Its sense of the past and the fractured friendship thematic produces a deep sense of melancholy that pervades the whole piece (comedy and melancholy are so often natural bedfellows) The skilfully modulated writing subtly shows how the unbalanced dynamic in the traditional double act of the ‘funny one’ and ‘straight man’, with its unequal share of laughs and attention under the spotlight of ‘fame’, is a brittle basis for friendship and an insecure one for it to happily co-exist within and endure.

The script is beautifully crafted, working on several levels at once as is always the case with Pemberton & Shearsmith’s writing and loaded with detail. It is an absorbing and engrossing character study as well as a tender portrait of loss and the way people assemble and negotiate their way through a vast array of emotions – anger, regret, sorrow, guilt – and all their thoughts, feelings and memories about a loved one, at a time of grief. The multi-layered characters of Tommy and Len are the thing of this No.9 and it is here that the sublime writing and exemplary acting of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton combine to lift ‘Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room’ to spellbinding heights. Art, at its very best, helps to explain the human condition and the contradictions that reside within and between people. It enables us to understand life a little better and develop a keener sense of empathy for the fragilities which exist in people. ‘Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room’s distinctiveness lies in the psychological exploration of Tommy and Len’s characters and the emotional complexities of their portrayals. Pemberton & Shearsmith care deeply about the people they write and create and in turn make us care. Their empathy drives this story from its low-key opening to compelling climax. It is one of the pair’s greatest writing and acting achievements so far in a career filled with them.

Bernie Clifton's Dressing Room

Writers…Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith

Director…Graeme Harper

Producer…Adam Tandy

Executive Producer…Jon Plowman

Associate Producers…Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith

Cast

Tommy Drake…Reece Shearsmith

Len Shelby…Steve Pemberton

Leanne…Sian Gibson

Inside No.9 Review: Series Four: ‘Zanizbar’

*contains spoilers*

“Aye, well, it is important to entertain as well as educate. One sometimes has to paint in primary colours.” Vince De Trans: ‘Zanzibar’)

‘Inside No.9’s series four opener is an exhilarating diversion, a playful and fanciful delight, but as one of Pemberton & Shearsmith’s most purely pleasurable 9’s yet, ‘Zanzibar’ may be the lightest of confections but is definitely no mere trifle. It is distinguished by an ambitious artistic device to conflate farce and Shakespeare.

The setting is the ninth floor corridor of a modern, swish hotel, with all of the action taking place outside the guests’ rooms. Different pairs of characters are beset by personal crises, a murder conspiracy or romantic difficulties but – as the prologue spoken by the hotel’s bellboy assures us – fate will soon intervene for or against them at Hotel Zanzibar.

Originally Pemberton & Shearsmith were set upon doing a full pelt farce: “We’re going to do a farce in a hotel corridor…And it felt a bit contrived, you know, to do it in a contemporary way. And there’s just one of those nice lightbulb moments where you go ‘let’s make it Shakespearean’ and then lets really draw on all the Shakespearean sources that we can” (1) (Steve Pemberton)

Being the prodigiously talented writers that they are, Reece and Steve set themselves the difficult writing challenge of replicating the full range of linguistic techniques and literary devices contained in a Shakespearean play (or practically any from the Elizabethan period) They achieved this re-creation with astonishing accuracy and in painstaking detail, of the kind we’ve come to expect from the pair.

Zanzibar

‘Zanzibar’ is written in iambic pentameter, which are unrhymed lines with a defined meter, the meter being made up of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one. A line of verse has five unstressed and stressed syllables, creating a distinctive, inbuilt rhythmic pace when they’re spoken. Blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter) is the main linguistic form found in Shakespeare’s plays but Pemberton & Shearsmith’s script adds layers to the richness of the language because it also reverts to rhyme verse several times. Rhyming couplets are used to denote tension, cap scenes as a character exits from the corridor, give the unravelling of plot threads a lyrical significance and invest the story’s climax with an additional flourish. An example of rhyming couplets being used to convey tension occurs about half-way through the story when panicked guest Robert, searching for his elderly mother who is suffering from a loss of memory, speaks in rhyming couplets as he anxiously looks for her along the ninth floor corridor: “I have searched every floor from one to nine, Of my mother, alas, there is no sign. I curse the day she went into Boots. She only wanted Schwarzkopf for her roots…Oh I should never have let her from my sight. I pray that someone’s seen her here tonight.” And when the knotted strands of plot are untangled as the story reaches its resolution-from-confusion ending, blank verse changes to rhyming couplets at two key stages to distinguish significant elements of the climax. Firstly in the lead-up to the moment when separated-at-birth twins Prince Rico and Gus see each other for the first time and then again just after the threat to a happy ending is averted with the containment, via hypnotism, of malevolent plotter Henry, where single lines of couplets are spoken by several different characters, one after another in conversational style: “Vince, you’ve saved the day.” (Colette) “Thank you, child. I’m glad that everyone is reconciled.” (Vince) “I thought I was a goner.” (Mr Green) “No way, Pops.” (Prince Rico) “Let’s lock him in his room and call the cops.” (Fred) The flowing rhythm of the couplets connotes a feeling of relief and suggests there is sense of unity between the characters, now that their problems are resolved and a happy ending for all of them is guaranteed.

Zanzibar

The very occasional dip into prose likewise marks certain points in the proceedings where its use serves a purpose. A conversation in prose takes place near the start when hotel guest Prince Rico wishes to avail himself of ‘off the menu’ room service to satisfy his fetish for sexual degradation, requesting “May we speak plainly once again” so that he and bellboy Fred can conduct the matter in a straightforward, business-like way as he orders up a prostitute willing to perform the kinky practice of golden showers on him.

By any measure this is a finely wrought and exquisitely honed construction in itself but Steve and Reece are well-known for not making things easy for themselves and build even more complexity into the lines of their beautifully rendered creation of a Shakespearean play’s form. Literary devices abound – similes and metaphors commonly wielded by Shakespeare and other Elizabethan playwrights are appropriated in similar rhetorical fashion: “Our love has turned as stale as last week’s bread”; “As soft as new-fallen snow.” (Amber) There is space for an aptronym (where someone’s name amusingly matches their occupation) with the hotel-based nightly show’s hypnotist having the appellation Vince De Trans.  More obscurely is the use of an anadiplosis, a literary device that repeats a word at the end of one clause and then immediately again at the beginning of another: “I’ll try the hypnotism show downstairs” (Robert) As the lift door closes with him inside, the next lift along opens and stage hypnotist Vince and hotel chambermaid Colette depart, with Colette telling Vince “I saw your hypnotism show downstairs.” The use of an anadiplosis draws attention to the concept of hypnotism, offering up the implication that it will have a key part to play in the enveloping plot and the unfolding of it.

Zanzibar

Pemberton & Shearsmith lace their script with archaic words (‘sirrah’, ‘privy’, ‘thine’) which anchor the Shakespearean evocation and mix in several manifestly modern references (‘9/11’ and ‘TripAdvisor’) which feel almost anachronistic given the highly stylised language that surrounds them. Deliberately choosing words like this helps to highlight the heightened quality of ‘Zanzibar’, the narrative revelry of it, the playfulness at its core. Innovatively mixing Shakespeare with farce allows the writers, in one bold move, to amplify the artifice and contrivances of both and give themselves the space to play with this creatively. As Steve Pemberton pointed out during a BFI preview Q&A for series four of ‘Inside No.9’, farce in a contemporary idiom felt too contrived to really inspire their imaginations. The pair have a reputation for work which looks anew at the familiar and ordinary or which approaches narrative from a different angle. Distancing ‘Zanzibar’ from pure farce through Shakespearean allusions – its language form and literary and plot devices – liberates it and gives it a rhythm and a unique life of its own. Pemberton & Shearsmith treat the narrative as very much an artificial construct, toying with its theatricality, underlining the conceit of the thing at certain points in the proceedings. This ‘No.9’ is a light-hearted invention, a knowing presentation, a play with players, dallying with and mixing the different elements – its devices – together to heighten the effect of the piece as something to “entertain as well as educate” (Vince De Trans)

There are referential nods to the works of Shakespeare interwoven throughout the carefully placed lines – partial quotations taken from several of his plays – which teasingly invite the audience to try and spot them and recognise their origins: “And smile and smile…” (Fred) (“That one may smile and smile and be a villain” from ‘Hamlet’); “Sleep well. Sweet Prince.” (Henry) (“Good night, sweet Prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!” from ‘Hamlet’); “…Wherein I see myself.” (Amber) (“I swear to three, even by thine own fair eyes. Wherein I see myself ” from ‘The Merchant of Venice’)

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Sourced elements from Shakespeare’s plays suffuse ‘Zanzibar’ in other ways too, informing the various plotlines and in the sketching of several characters: The main plot which revolves around twins, who having been separated at birth arrive as guests on the same hotel floor (the engine which drives the farce based components of mistaken identities and misunderstandings) is derived from ‘The Comedy of Errors’; Henry, Prince Rico’s advisor is an abstraction of two characters from Shakespeare plays. He shares the resentment that Caliban from ‘The Tempest’ felt for his servant relationship with his master Prospero (in Henry’s case, between himself and Rico) as well as the hatching of a plot to kill his master. This malcontent’s slipperiness and desire to reach a more exalted position is also heavily suggestive of ‘Othello’s Iago; Amber being induced into a hypnotic trance by Vince to reignite her love for Gus but whose passions are instead stirred by Robert as the first person she sees once she’s under hypnosis is borrowed from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and the love potion which bewitched Titania and Lysander to fixate on the first person they see when they wake up; Mr Green’s suicidal machinations invoke the references to and depictions of suicide which occur in several of Shakespeare’s plays; the hypnotist’s intervention to stop Henry’s knife wielding threats, which plays a principal part in the outcome of the plot, carries a magic spell undercurrent which is a key theme in ‘The Tempest’.

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The text is scattered with characters intimating or directly commenting on the concocted nature of the piece and peppered with effects that reinforce our awareness of its artifice and theatrical sensibility.

The fourth wall is broken at the very start of ‘Zanzibar’ when the first character we see – Fred, the hotel’s bellboy – delivers a prologue straight to camera to greet our arrival. It feels like the stage curtains have been parted when the lift door opened. The audience is being invited to settle in their seats and watch a play with Fred requesting us to “linger in our corridor” – the ninth floor corridor has become the stage. The description Fred gives of the characters as “mountaineers” who are “on their way up or down” extends the allusion – they are the players about to make their entrances. The bellboy even informs us about the role he’ll be playing – there to “link their ships”. Many of the characters are given one or more monologues to perform, most of which are directed to camera. The monologues work as exposition, driving the plot forward and adding layers to it and also allow the characters to vent their feelings or articulate their motives, all the while creating further dimensions to the inherent theatricality at work. Bellboy Fred underlines this as the story nears its conclusion “So all’s resolved. Just like a theatre play.” Indeed characters even make knowing comments that play up the conceit behind the narrative – the replication of a Shakespearean play in form and content – and some of the devices used in its construction, once more breaching the fourth wall barrier: “Like this iambic foot, you’re stressed. I’m not” (Prince Rico); “That’s what you call dramatic irony” (Mr Green); “It’s more than a rhyming couplet can relay” (Robert)

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The tenets of Shakespeare’s comedic plays chime with many of the elements that feature in classic farce – reliance on coincidences, mistaken identities, contrivances and last-minute resolutions where all the loose ends are neatly tied together.  Their convergences allow Pemberton & Shearsmith to merge Shakespeare and the principles of hotel farce (perfected by Georges Feydeau) seamlessly. Their insertion of Shakespeare into hotel-room farce sees them replace slapstick and broad physical humour associated with traditional farce with literary devices, referential elements and knowingly stylised theatrics.

The exacting meticulousness involved in the writers’ re-creation of Shakespearean form and content is matched by the intricacies entailed in their structuring of the farce in ‘Zanzibar’. The complex plotting, the boxes within boxes construction around room door numbers, characters switching rooms, doors opening and closing, entrances and exits makes your head spin. The developing criss-crossing of mistaken identities, the multiplying of mishaps and misunderstandings builds and builds as the pace speeds up until the plot is tighter than a coiled spring before bursting open like a jack-in-the-box. The sheer graft required to conceive, devise, chart and manoeuvre the entanglement of events and characters into place – the elaborate craft and scrupulous precision of it all – must have made Pemberton & Shearsmith’s brains ache but the perfection reached in its execution was worth it.

The Shakespearean and farcical elements working in tandem complement each other. The rhythm and tempo established by the iambic pentameter lines and the beats and timing of the quickening farce impel each other and gives the narrative a dynamism and energy that’s distinctive and innovative.

The writers’ fondness for wordplay coalesce with Shakespearean bawdiness and ribaldry, which they use to great comic effect in relation to Prince Rico’s sexual peccadillos – his liking for golden showers in particular: “Does Sir prefer the water sign or the earth sign?” (Fred) and in the levels of verbal comic misunderstanding arising from Rico’s mistaken belief that elderly Alice is the prostitute he’s ordered to perform the act. Bawdy wordplay is also deployed in Amber’s hypnotically induced molesting of Robert: “Come let me see thy mighty sword” (Amber) “I wish to keep my sword within its sheath! It’s more like a little dagger anyway” (Robert)

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The narrative interweaving of Shakespeare and farce receives a last referential nod and wink from Pemberton & Shearsmith at the very end of ‘Zanzibar’ when Fred places a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door handle of one of the rooms –  the flourish of a farce motif as the finishing touch.

Although ‘Zanzibar’ glows with the heightened reality of a light and whimsical contrivance it has a grounding as well, a sense of reality in terms of tone and performance which brings a balance to the frivolity and knowing quirkiness. The suicidal Mr Green is a haunted man and through the performance of Bill Paterson has a sad, melancholic quality which inserts some emotional reality into the overtly artificial construct. Likewise, there is a hard and ruthless menace to Henry which gives an edge to events as they unfold on the ninth floor.

There is also an extraordinary attention to detail which Pemberton & Shearsmith always ensure is present in their writing and which is carried over into the collaborative production process during filming. This exacting principle can be seen when elderly, forgetful Alice leaves Prince Rico’s room after she was mistaken for the prostitute he was expecting to administer a golden shower on him. She leaves a trail of wet footprints on the corridor carpet. It’s a small detail, only glimpsed for a few seconds, but illustrates the level of rigour with which the ‘Inside No.9’ creators and their collaborators approach their work – the creative process is a serious business, especially when it involves comedy. No matter how ridiculous or far-fetched the situation being portrayed is, keeping it grounded matters because something is funnier when it is believable or where there is something at risk – in this case, an elderly woman’s dignity. Alice’s idiosyncratic shuffle – her little pigeon-step walk – as she wanders across the ninth floor corridor and moves from room to room has an almost rhythmical, dance-like quality to it which echoes and reflects the layers of rhythm (the lines in iambic pentameter and the farce’s pacing and beats) that infuse ‘Zanzibar’. Giving its heightened reality a grounding and a depth of detail ensures this story is never a flighty excursion but an enchanting concoction, with artistry at its core.

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As the series four opener of ‘Inside No.9’, ‘Zanzibar’ is the lightest creation Pemberton & Shearsmith have produced for their sublime anthology show so far. There is barely a chink of darkness lurking in its recesses (suicidal desires and murder plots accepted) no revelation that requires us to recalibrate our thoughts or feelings. Instead it takes joyous delight in the smart blend of language form and literary devices, alluding to them throughout the piece, drawing attention to the conceit of the whole thing.

Playfulness in there in abundance but its true brilliance lies in the extraordinary, almost virtuoso intricacy of the script – the faithful adherence to the Shakespearean verse and the complex layers of plot in the farce. The richness of the iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets and the tempo and momentum of the farce are masterfully and exquisitely constructed.

There is so much to relish in ‘Zanzibar’ – the rhetorical artfulness, its wordplay, the scatological comic high points, the myriad of misunderstandings, the layers of rhythms enveloping it all.

Pemberton & Shearsmith confidentially acknowledge its artifice and beautifully control and merge all of its elements. Their pre-eminence as writers and actors continues unabated. Just when you think they must have reached a creative pinnacle they give us another incredible piece of work that leaves you wondering where their endless inventiveness will take them next.

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Footnotes

  1. Steve Pemberton, BFI Southbank Q&A at preview screening of series four of ‘Inside No.9’ (30th October 2017)

Writers…Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith

Director…David Kerr

Producer…Adam Tandy

Executive Producer…Jon Plowman

Associate Producers…Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith

Cast

Henry…Reece Shearsmith

Robert Hargreaves…Steve Pemberton

Prince Rico/Gus…Rory Kinnear

Mr Green…Bill Paterson

Fred…Jaygann Ayeh

Alice Hargreaves…Marcia Warren

Amber…Hattie Morahan

Colette…Helen Monks

Tracey…Tanya Franks

Vince De Trans…Kevin Eldon

 

Inside No. 9 Review: Series Three: ‘Private View’

*contains spoilers*

“One of the disciplines in art is collage, the assemblage of disparate elements which together create a new whole.” (Maurice Wickham: ‘Private View’)

More than any other ‘Inside No. 9’ of series three, ‘Private View’ features Pemberton & Shearsmith wearing an apparel of horror and thriller influences on their collaborative sleeve. The lovingly crafted abstraction of stylistic devices and narrative elements create a homage that has a visual and structural indebtedness to celebrated key genre works: Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’, the 1973 British horror movie ‘Theatre of Blood’ and the European horror of Italian Giallo films.

The well-established mystery trope from Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’ (a group of apparently unconnected strangers trapped in a location they can’t escape from are picked off one by one by an unknown assailant) segues into a climactic denouement with a similar conceit to the 1973 British horror film ‘Theatre of Blood’ (an incensed protagonist commits a series of avenging murders using ‘just desserts’ methods on a set of victims whom the killer regards to be fully deserving of their fate).

Alongside the skilfully crafted mash-up of referential plots, ‘Private View’ is distinguished by the iconographic style and thematic motifs of its perfectly realised Giallo ornamentation, clearly signified in the story. Director Guillem Morales and director of photography, Stephan Pehrsson, give ‘Private View’ a very distinctive look of strikingly vivid colours and some highly stylized camera work that is pure 20th century Italian Giallo cinematic technique.

These intrinsic components help give this ‘Inside No. 9’ a very playful tone. Pemberton & Shearsmith blend these very recognisable (to fans of the mystery horror genre) constituent parts together to produce a script that has an exuberant energy and underlying sense of fun. So much of it is a game – “Judging by the first few pieces, perhaps it’s some form of endurance test. See you at the other end” (Maurice) – where the rules are well-known and understood by the audience, with the writers both adhering to and subverting these precepts.

The “disparate elements” used by the writing duo to construct ‘Private View’ are mixed with comedic embellishments of ribaldry, double entendres and malapropisms, the elevated cultural excursions of the contemporary art world, citing hyperrealism sculptures and the conceptual installations of illusionary space and auditory perception, and even allowing for the mischievous inclusion of ‘Carry On’ lines. It is such a vast canvas of references – a collage assemblage that Pemberton & Shearsmith play with in masterful ways for the most entertaining ends. Viewers are, after all, instructed to ‘Make Yourself Comfortable’ from the start with the title of the first art piece we see in the ‘Private View’ art gallery setting.

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Seven strangers have been invited to a private viewing of the valedictory exhibition of late artist Elliot Quinn in an East London basement art gallery. The group are as eclectic as the pieces on display: Carrie, a vacuous reality TV celebrity desperate to remain in the bubble of minuscule fame; Maurice Wickham, a supercilious, pompous art lecturer; Kenneth Williams, a pony-tailed health & safety officer for the local council with a self-professed lack of humour, but cursed with the same appellation as the famous comic performer; Jean, a chatty, solecistic Irish dinner lady; Patricia, an imperious, high-handed, demanding visually impaired authoress of soft porn novels and Bea, a hired waitress for the evening, surly, sarcastic and contemptuous of everyone and everything. The other guest, Neil Francis, a nurse hired to act as Patricia’s guide, arrived first and was seen being dispatched by a mysterious, black-gloved figure, from the eye-catching point-of-view of the killer.

The very first scene featuring Neil’s murder is a stylistic statement of intent by Pemberton & Shearsmith and director Morales to envelope the story with a Giallo sensibility. It’s a perceptive choice given the context of ‘Private View’. Its pronounced visual style echoes and links it to the art installation environs surrounding the story.

The emblematic fetishistic close-up shot of the black glove worn by a mystery killer is an iconic Giallo trope. As is a voyeuristic first person perspective of the murderer and a grisly death sequence. All are present and correct at the start of ‘Private View’. Morales (and Pehrsson’s photography) keep the Giallo stylism to the fore with the use of vivid colours throughout the ‘Nine’ art gallery. The spectrum of bold primary colours flood and fill each frame: Deep reds dominate (suggestive of blood having been spilt) in all the rooms with art on display – the room where Neil is found (his body now part of the exhibit), in the main gallery space where the 3D model head of Elliot Quinn is centre stage; yellow permeates the storage room as Maurice, Kenneth and Jean seek a means of escape, with a warm green colour placed in the background – an outside street that is just out of reach; a dank, cold green saturates the basement toilets where Patricia hides to avoid becoming the mystery killer’s next victim. ‘Private View’s use of colour – almost surreal at times – is an important part of the heightened sense of experience that is the Giallo aesthetic – an exaggerated, intense, distorted expression of reality, visually and thematically.  The stylized camerawork of Giallo is at play at certain moments too, with strange camera angles producing disorienting images:  An unusually low angle shot shows Carrie reflected in the mirror floor as she gazes at the spiked chair exhibit with a seated dead Neil on it. The bizarre angle then creates the jump scare of Maurice’s reflection suddenly looming behind Carrie in the floor too. The stylish visuals of the Giallo-influenced camera also generate unconventional, unorthodox shots that initiate disquieting framing: The high and low angle views of the toilet cubicle with a trapped Patricia hiding inside, desperate to evade the stalking killer, are unsettlingly voyeuristic.

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There is a satisfying coherence between the heightened visual style of Giallo and the story’s conceptual art backdrop. They both collude and coalesce around the idea of spatial perception and the disorientating, disruptive and mesmerising experience of space (it is no coincidence that at one point Maurice talks about artist Richard Wilson’s art installation at the Saatchi Gallery – ‘Oil’) The Giallo amplification emphasizes the artificial space which hems in the diverse group of invitees, a space which it is increasingly made clear they are trapped in as their numbers diminish. It is a domain that tightens and closes in on them (echoing the way the killer is doing the same). Although markedly intense colours dominate each frame,  low lit, dark edges occasionally encroach and lurk on the recesses of the screen, giving the art gallery site a stealthily creeping, threatening quality. Carefully positioning the cast of characters within these hue filled frames also brings forth a sense of the essence of art – the principles of colour and composition.

The ‘And Then There Were None’ plotline has become universally familiar (and parodied) to the point that it is imbued with layers of expectation understood and appreciated by all audiences of mystery thrillers. This is something acknowledged by Pemberton & Shearsmith, its tropes and clichés signposted in the lines they give to some of the characters, in which they postulate on the situation they’re in and which accentuate their self-awareness of it: “Why have we all been handpicked do you think? We none of us know each other. It appears we have very little in common.” (Maurice); “This is all a bit Agatha Christie, isn’t it?” (Patricia); “And then of course they all split up, which is something you would never do in that situation. And before you know it there’s another one gone.” (Patricia)

Characters are paired off or are left on their own to disappear for several scenes (Maurice is noticeably left alone at the spiked chair installation/murder site at this own suggestion). The writers parlay all the devices at their disposal to put everyone under suspicion as the possible culprit. The audience, already primed to the classic conventions of the plot (and its numerous versions and imitations over the years) are alert to the fact that every nuance and intimation could be either a clue or a red herring. Mindful of this, Pemberton & Shearsmith deftly layer ambiguity and (possible) significance across every scene: When Jean suggests she and Patricia pair up, Kenneth is seen watching them intently as they walk off together; Carrie’s fleeting look of both contrived innocence and possible guilt as she insists “I haven’t done anything” after Maurice tells her the police will want to interview her (after the discovery of Neil Francis’ body impaled on the spiked chair)

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Viewers’ comfortable assumption of the mystery protocol – that the killer’s identity is kept secret and only revealed at the very end – is overturned by Pemberton & Shearsmith’s audacious subverting of this convention with more than eight minutes to go: The point-of- view shot of the black gloved killer moving along each toilet cubicle after following Patricia there as she attempted to find somewhere to hide, the tension being held as the gloved hand knocks on the one locked cubicle door before the camera pulls back and the murderer’s identity is revealed in the toilet wall mirror to be Jean, the (seemingly) mildly eccentric dinner lady.

Jean’s declamation scene is quite remarkable, containing an almost Shakespearian monologue of vitriol as she justifies her reasons for vengeance, explaining the motive behind her murder spree with proselytising zeal. At its core is a performance of extraordinary hypnotic power by Fiona Shaw, who brilliantly conveys the character’s puritanical, unhinged state of mind.

A bloodied Jean caresses and kisses the large 3D model of Elliot Quinn’s head with a perturbing, devoted intensity, leaving traces of blood on it, as she reveals to Maurice (the only survivor of her bloodletting) that she is Quinn’s mother and that when her son found out he was dying he decided to donate all of his body’s organs. He conceived the idea for his last pieces of art from this ‘gift of life’ – the receivers of his donated organs were to be the ‘living art’ of his farewell exhibition – their lives a celebration of his life.  As his mother saw it,  the donees, her victims  – Neil, Bea, Carrie, Patricia and Kenneth – were all unworthy recipients of her son’s organs and therefore deserving targets of her splenetic rage (“You squandered him…He was wasted on all of you.”) because, as she makes clear with unforgiving rancour, their moral and personal failings (greed, self-pity, copious drinker, pornography creator, smoker) polluted and desecrated the purity of her son’s parting artistic conception of living art and sullied what was to be his final artistic statement to the world.

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Circumventing her son’s vision – with perverse Grand Guignol design – the re-harvested organs from her victims are now part of a new artwork that she’s created, with each organ in a glass jar set on a plinth connected by red ribbons, like arteries in a body. It is her deranged depiction of her son’s body, a way of making him alive again, of reanimating him (just as the filmed clip of Quinn projected onto a 3D model of his head had done)

With devilish boldness, Pemberton & Shearsmith inventively reimagine ‘Theatre of Blood’ and Edward Lionheart’s wrathful revenge with organ transplants, body parts and as a mourning mother’s grief turned mad.

The disclosure that organ transplants were the link between the members of the group, and that Jean killed in order to reclaim the organs from their bodies, give the death sequences an edgier context in retrospect: Kidney donee Neil is killed when he’s shoved onto the twin spiked chair exhibit,  the spikes perfectly positioned to skewer the kidneys; Jean murders Kenneth (the one killing that is committed onscreen from the audience’s perspective) by suffocating him with a plastic bag – a ‘just desserts’ method of murder as she saw it, given his organ transplant was a right lung and he smoked – “You shouldn’t be smoking Kenneth, for a start.” (Jean)

An obsessive eye for detail is an inherent feature of Pemberton & Shearsmith’s writing. Their scripts are constructed with layer after layer of nuance, producing a rich seam to be mined for meaning. Every inference, hint, seeding – all are clues waiting to be recognised and retrieved.

As unmasking the identity of the killer is one of the main elements of the mystery, Pemberton & Shearsmith give Jean a markedly guileless naivety – an unsophisticated and artless figure amid all the art, cheerfully dropping malapropisms all over the place: “She is impartially sighted”, “We’re like fish in a basket”, “Two new cornettos”. Her faux naïf deceit is designed to lull the other characters into thinking she is a harmless, daffy middle-aged woman, when she is anything but. For the writers, Jean works as an adroit double bluff – the character least likely to be the killer and therefore, on the other hand, the most obvious candidate too. It’s a case of Pemberton & Shearsmith playfully finessing the oft repeated device of the mystery genre – the person you’d least suspect actually turns out to be the guilty party.

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Skilfully working at another narrative level, Pemberton & Shearsmith also subtly suggest and convey Jean’s scheming, true feelings and latent intentions taking place under the noses of the rest of the group: As the camera pans along the characters watching the reanimated Quinn speaking from beyond the grave via a projection on a model of his head, they all seem relatively or distinctly unimpressed except Jean, who looks enthralled and almost in awe as the clip is played; a momentary look of shock registers on Jean’s face as she watches Kenneth start to smoke what she presumes is a cigarette (“It was an e-cigarette” – Maurice); the “It really burns” pre-echo observation about champagne by Jean seeds her later method of killing one of the victims, by spiking the champagne with poison; Jean’s attempted diversionary tactics to try and distract Maurice and Kenneth from focusing on a means of escape when they’re in the storage room, as she prattles on about her hunger pangs and ponderously deliberates a choice of paint colour; her outwardly innocent exchange with Kenneth about how children can be a cause for concern – “Oh that is a worry. I could barely keep mine in one piece”. All take on the dreadful realisation of dark revelation later on, when the reason for her avowed revenge is disclosed.

The last piece of Jean’s plan (and final organ to re-harvest) is to have Maurice’s heart as the centrepiece of the art display she cultivated – that of her victims’ (or as she sees it, her son’s) body organs in glass jars on plinths with circulatory red ribbons. Pemberton & Shearsmith undercut any assumed audience expectation here by having Maurice managing to escape his seemingly sealed fate. The close shot of one of his hands wriggled half free of one of the ribbons tying his wrists to a chair in the moments before the screen goes black alludes to the escape happening.

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The final scene shows Maurice has supplanted Jean’s scheme and harvested her heart for his own needs – to fill the remaining empty glass jar and plinth. He has claimed the (body) artwork as his own and is now being acclaimed by the art world as an exciting new talent. It is a reversal of fortunes and one that keeps faith with the narrative logic underpinning the scope of the revenge plot.  As Maurice pointed out to Jean, he had looked after himself following his transplant and had not abused his body (or her son’s heart) unlike the others. It would disrupt the symmetry underpinning Jean’s avenging scheme – that her victims were deserving of their fate because of their ‘failings’ – if she had been ‘allowed’ to succeed with her plan to kill Maurice as well.

There are also several subtle intimations woven into the script connecting body art (literal and figurative) with Maurice: “Body art is still art after all” (when he passes comment on Bea’s tattoos). He also touches on the work of Ron Mueck, a hyperrealist sculptor, famous for his extremely realistic sculptures of human bodies. Maurice doesn’t appear to have a scrap of discomfort in asserting the body organs artwork as his own or any difficulty in disregarding the bloodletting behind its creation. It indicates a certain level of ruthlessness in him, perhaps signalled when he made the observation “Someone’s been stabbed in the back. Nothing new in the art world of course.”

‘Private View’ adeptly rearranges familiar pieces from notable thriller and horror works into a narrative that operates on two levels – as homage and as a sly interrupter of expectation. Making full use of the story’s archetypal characters, wordplay and Rabelaisian humour,  it has a tone more playful than perhaps any ‘Inside No. 9’ before it has had.

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Distinguished by the Giallo influenced visuals and a macabre revenge plot involving organ transplants, Pemberton & Shearsmith’s aim is dark tinged fun and entertainment, which they supply in abundance with genuinely nasty moments nestling alongside ‘Carry On’ inspired double entendres. The pair’s formidable knowledge of the horror genre in all its forms enables them to subtly parody whilst at the same time subvert in surprising and unexpected ways. They give ‘Private View’ the tempo and energy of a game – both amusing and exciting – and clearly a game being played by two experts.

Given we live in times where ignorance is defiantly embraced and stupidity is worn like a proud badge of honour, a programme as intelligent, daring and singular as ‘Inside No. 9’ is like a shining beacon, when so much else is monotonous mediocrity or dismal dumbness. A series which does not insult its audience, but presumes it to be alert to subtlety and shading and welcoming of ingenuity and inventiveness, is indeed rare.

Reaching the end of its third series, ‘Inside No.9’ has now given us 18 stories of impeccable quality – each one a beautifully crafted jewel, which reveals different facets and elements within it every time one of them is revisited and watched again. A work of art is something people always want to come back to, look at again and re-examine from every possible angle. ‘Inside No. 9’s rewatchability has that same level of potency running right through it. It is a work of artistic brilliance that you just know will be watched and appreciated for generations to come.

Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith have taken their ‘raising the bar’ principle to extraordinary heights of anticipation for viewers and admirers of their work, which have always more than been met. They eclipse their contemporaries and those coming up behind them at every turn because they ring the changes in tone and the eclectic range of stories in ‘Inside No. 9’ with a sureness of touch and masterly confidence that is quite remarkable.

Series three travelled between the matchless technical integrity and narrative experimentation of ‘The Devil of Christmas’, ‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’s brainpower dynamics, intertextual layers and shocking double crosses to the visually beautiful, psychologically complex treatise on madness and bereavement in ‘Diddle Diddle Dumpling’ – and this describes only half the series.

There really doesn’t seem to be a story that Pemberton & Shearsmith can’t attempt and not do exceptionally well and from different, original angles. They are forever pushing forward with invention and innovation – never resting on their laurels – in order to constantly surprise their audiences and escape the trap of merely meeting and satisfying viewer expectation. That would be the creative death knell for two creators whose work is a labour of love and who clearly care so much about what they make. British television is blessed to have them and would be infinitely poorer if they should ever – dreadful to contemplate – call time on their superlative partnership. Please cherish them BBC. Please cherish them everyone.

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Writers…Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith

Director…Guillem Morales

Producer…Adam Tandy

Executive Producer…Jon Plowman

Associate Producers…Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith

Cast

Maurice Wickham…Reece Shearsmith

Kenneth Williams…Steve Pemberton

Jean…Fiona Shaw

Patricia…Felicity Kendal

Carrie…Morgana Robinson

Bea…Montserrat Lombard

Elliot Quinn…Johnny Flynn

Reporter…Muriel Gray

Neil Francis…Peter Kay

Inside No. 9 Review: Series Three: ‘Diddle Diddle Dumpling’

*contains spoilers*

“This is very cruel what you’re doing you know.” (David: ‘Diddle Diddle Dumpling’)

We are taken by surprise at the very start of ‘Diddle Diddle Dumpling’ by the oft-kilter premise that its ‘9’ is, for the first time, not a setting or location but rather an object – a man’s black size 9 shoe. Quiet brilliantly however – in a story that is driven by a sequential series of masterful scenes which are both strikingly singular and correspondingly cohesive  at the same time –  it becomes, with creeping incremental intent, about a location after all – the inside of a man’s head. For David, a stay-at-home husband and father, the single shoe is an aberration which becomes imbued with a potent symbolism that coalesces in and overwhelms his mind.

Every ‘Inside No. 9’  by dint of its quality and inventiveness remains with you, as great storytelling always does. ‘Diddle Diddle Dumpling’ is remarkable even by the exceptional standards of the series’ canon. It weaves a mesmerising hold which is indelible and profound, with all of its elements working together in an incredibly powerful way. Pemberton & Shearsmith’s sensitive, complex and nuanced script is an impactful meditation on loss, pain and grief, the thematics of which explore fissures in marital and familial relationships, how feelings get suppressed and the ways in which the mind is consumed by the extremities of distress and trauma.

Allied to this, director Guillem Morales and director of photography John Sorapure’s supreme artistry contributes important visual insights to the narrative, giving this ‘Inside No.9’ a particularly pronounced cinematic sensibility. There are also astonishing emotional layers brought forth by the sensitive, committed performances of Reece Shearmith and Keeley Hawes as husband & wife, David and Louise, which help to anchor the story with extraordinary depth and poignancy.

The single shoe which David ‘finds’ lying on the suburban street outside his home whilst out jogging becomes over the course of the tale an object of reverence for him. It starts as a mild curiosity – “It’s so odd. What’s the story behind it?” (David) – but within a few scenes the shoe has been elevated to an item that needs to be cared for: “I just didn’t want anyone stealing it”… “It just felt wrong leaving it outside” (David)

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The first conversation we watch between the couple subtly alludes to the substitution process the shoe undergoes with David: Louise needs some empty jam jars so she can fill them with raffle prizes for the school Spring Fair. Namely, the jars’ original use has been substituted in order to utilize them in a different way. Similarly,  the shoe is suffused with a significance for David far removed from its simple function as footwear. He substitutes new meaning and importance onto it, enabling him to transfer his feelings, desires and emotions to the shoe through psychological displacement in order to assuage deeply buried thoughts, fears and anxieties which are too difficult to express or confront directly.

The powerful feelings and emotions pervading David’s mind and dominating his thoughts are intimated from the start through an astute visual narrative which is an ever-present, insistent undercurrent to the verbal exchanges and conversations between David, Louise and the story’s other characters – the couple’s daughter Sally, their friend Chris and Ted, the man who comes to claim the lost shoe.

Almost from the opening shot, twos occupy space within the frame, permeating the screen with images of pairs in symmetrical balance. There are two lines of trees in blossom in the foreground as David goes for his morning run; the family home of David and Louise is number 22, with a ‘2’ on each side of the double opening front door.

The visual theme of pairs and symmetry is taken even further once inside the house with a stunning mise-en-scene achieved by director Morales and director of photography Sorapure who skilfully signify David’s state of mind -that his thoughts are dominated by the idea of pairs – the sense of separation and distance in the couples’ relationship and a creeping sense of family loss. Their use of space and composition, set and props, colour, shade and lighting impart an attention to detail to complement Pemberton & Shearsmith’s own. The primacy of pairs is everywhere in the interiors of the house. They frame the characters – who are often placed in the centre of shots – in order to draw attention to the imposing presence of twos: David standing in front of the kitchen’s two large window panes, a pair of jam jars on the table in front of him and two yellow upturned glasses on the counter behind him; David does the housework close to a sideboard which has a pair of lamps and two matching hare ornaments placed carefully on either side of it in perfect symmetry and a chair on each side of the room to create balance; David prepares two cocktail drinks with an olive in each identical glass, having ‘forgotten’ he’d already made the exact same pair of drinks.

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Giving the house interiors such a strong visual significance helps secure the notion that the idea of pairs has taken over David’s mind, that he has an unarticulated but deep need for them and the balance they provide. This gives his obsession over the single shoe an important context and embeds its implication into the narrative.

Morales’ camera’s detached observation of the space in the house accentuates how large the rooms are, almost engulfing the people framed at their centre. All that unoccupied space – to the extent that characters seem to disappear into it – is suggestive of emptiness and even loss. It is almost as if all the sets of pairs located throughout the house are there to compensate for something that is missing.

The spatial remoteness also evokes the space between David and Louise. They are never placed physically close to each other, they’re always spaced apart. It is a metaphor for the gap in understanding between them and their inability to express their feelings to one another.

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Breaches in symmetry and the breaking of pairings are present all around the house: The dining table has only three chairs – the symmetrical  pattern of its two pairs of chairs is broken as one chair is missing; the high angle shots of the hallway highlight the mismatched staircase carpet and hall rug – the stair carpet has a square checker pattern, the hall rug has none – symmetry is ruptured. One symmetrical cleave startingly occurs at a crucial point in the story: The unsettling image of Ted cut in half as he stands partially hidden by a fire hearth as he leaves the house – after claiming he is the shoe’s rightful owner – is a vision of half a person. It is David’s point of view shot representing his fractured state of mind (his mind’s eye quite literally) in which he sees half a person because his disturbed thought processes are dominated by the concept of pairs (“two halves”)

The drawing forth of these breakages in symmetrical pairings arouses a mood of slowly crawling dread as the story moves towards its dreadful revelation, which in all its tragic and poignant detail explains the reason for David’s psychotic behaviour.

Pemberton & Shearsmith’s ‘Diddle Diddle Dumpling’ script is outstanding in the way it mines seams of telling detail to expose cracks in David and Louise’s relationship and damage to a family caused by the lasting pain of loss and the residues of tragedy. Conversely as a tender counterpoint, their writing also conveys wells of emotion in showing Louise’s love and compassion for her husband trapped in mental turmoil, as well as her exasperation, desperation and fear as she tries everything in her power to halt and prevent his inexorable descent into obsession and psychosis.

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The couple are unable to address the grief they share between them. They mute their feelings, too scared to express them in case it awakens the agony of their loss: When Louise challenges David over his absurd ‘Lost Shoe’ poster campaign she reaches a point where she can go no further in trying to reason with him and is about to say something else but stops herself and then there is a momentary silence between the pair. There is a subtle implication that she could be concerned that directly confronting David about what lies behind his troubling behaviour might worsen his condition. A reference later on – “You know he’s not been well” (Louise) – suggests her husband’s mental fragility is not new. In the same way, the seemingly innocent exchange between Louise and daughter Sally about where and when hymns are sung – “Like a funeral?” is followed by a telling silence from Louise before she answers. What is left unsaid says so much about their familial loss. The gaps and silences between words hold so much tension, meaning and emotion about the buried pain that David and Louise do not – or cannot – address. Both of them are  unwilling – or too afraid – to talk about it.

It is striking that we mainly see Louise interacting with and caring for Sally, even though David is the stay-at-home parent. On one of the few occasions he is seen taking an interest in his daughter he is very sharp with her, telling her off for using the shoe as a pretend car for her doll. The delicately drawn inference is that Sally is a painful reminder of the past for David and a present which he can’t come to terms with. This implication becomes starkly clear in the scene where young Sally recites the titular nursery rhyme to her father. The line “one shoe off, one shoe on” seems to make almost playful reference to the shoe that David had been obsessed with, but another line “Diddle Diddle Dumpling, my son John” is like a punch to the stomach for him, a look of loss and pain flood across his face as he reacts to hearing the word ‘son’. Sally is the catalyst for David’s memory of unspoken trauma to reassert itself.

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From the opening scene it is apparent how careful Louise is around David, always mindful of what she says and more importantly of what she doesn’t. She is often shown trying to shift his attention away from the shoe, focus his mind on activities or encourage an interest in work opportunities. Only occasionally does her tenderness turn into irritation when she tries to challenge her husband’s perplexing obsession and disconnection from reality. Chris and Ted follow her sympathetic approach in their noticeably gentle interactions with David, treating his bizarre, disturbing behaviour with consideration, sensitivity and humanity. The sympathy shown towards David in ‘Diddle Diddle Dumpling’ helps to hone and give coherence to the heart-rending human tragedy which is at the core of the story.

Pemberton and Shearsmith delineate David’s perturbing behaviour and damaged psyche with moments of eye-catching absurdity, insight and subtlety. Their unparalleled skill at locating deeper meaning in lines and passing moments – whose inferences are only properly understood when the end of the story is reached – bring emotive layers and depth to the portrayal of David’s mental upheaval and inner pain.

Across the timeline of the seasons in which the story takes place, David is often seen standing in isolation at a window, looking outside – a framing device which conveys loneliness. He seems distracted, lost and in a tumult of pain, as if seized by a feeling of desolation. It is also evident when he is seen vacuuming, staring blankly ahead, a numb expression on his face. From the first time we see David, as he spots the discarded shoe on the street, he has a haunted quality, a hint of sadness in the eyes. All of these manifestations illustrate the pathological state of his mind.

The writers use two key incidents to show the growing decline in David’s mental state – the dining room scene where he demands Chris times him for two minutes to show he can go that long without mentioning the shoe and the interrogation scene in which he questions Ted at length to determine if he’s the shoe’s rightful owner. Both have an absurdist comic edge in which ridiculously surreal situations are depicted with upmost seriousness. At the same time, the multi-layered brilliance of the writing undercuts the dark humour with disquieting elements which contain troubling portents: As David is being timed during the challenge not to speak about the shoe for two minutes he tells his wife “This is very cruel what you’re doing you know”. It is a line which brings you up with a start as it expresses the pain he is carrying inside him. He could just as well be speaking to himself, admonishing his own mind for the cruelty of the mental disorder he is suffering from. Immediately after his failure to complete the challenge David appears agitated and gripped by a mania, speaking rapidly to Chris as ideas about the shoe pour out of him. Reaching far beyond the comedic absurdity of the initial situation it is a scene which becomes extremely unsettling to watch because we can see David is moving ever closer to a complete mental breakdown.

The interrogation scene between David and Ted goes even further in its perfectly pitched comic absurdity than the dining room timing challenge. As David realises he will have to give up the shoe to Ted he is overcome with emotion which seems to come from somewhere deep inside him. Not only does he refer to the shoe as him “Here he is. I’ve looked after him” but he also grasps it close to his face, his lips touching it, almost kissing it. When he pleads “Could you just give me a minute please. I’m finding this really hard” the distress is real and the sadness it provokes in David deeply upsetting and disturbing. The revelation at the very end that David and Louise are bereaved parents and that their young son Joseph died (Sally’s twin brother) makes David’s emotional ‘goodbye’ to the shoe here utterly heartbreaking in retrospect.

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Louise forces David to confront his pain and grief in the very last scene after he’s discovered her subterfuge with her old college friend Ted, done in order to put an end to David’s obsession with the shoe. The couple finally express their feelings and directly address the loss of their son (this intensely emotional scene is acted with extraordinary feeling and nuance by Reece Shearsmith and Keeley Hawes) Whilst Louise sought to not let grief destroy her by focusing all her attention on Sally, David’s only way of managing and controlling his loss was by restoring the natural order of things (there is nothing more ‘unnatural’ than the loss of a child for a parent) in his own mind through pairs – the putting together of halves. His reasoning told him twins were “two halves” and that “They should be together”, hence his inordinate need for pairs (and fixation with reuniting them) physically and psychologically.

Pemberton & Shearsmith leave enough troubling ambiguity in the closing moments to allow for the dreadful possibility (entirely in the audience’s mind) that David’s psychosis, obsession with pairs and need for ‘halves’ to be ‘together’ may have lead him to kill Sally: The equivocation of “They should be together” could equally mean ‘together’ alive in David’s mind, rather than the grim ‘together’ in death. Even the idea that he has killed Ted is only alluded to – Louise sees fresh blood on David’s hand – without it ever being confirmed (“Can’t remember” is all David says) The ambivalence of the final scene – the insinuated act of violence and even the horribly suggestive suspicion of filicide that hangs in the air –   feels completely in keeping with the disquieting atmosphere and creeping dread that chillingly pervades the whole piece.

The CCTV footage played over the end credits shows David placing his own shoe on the street, before he sets off on his run, in order to later ‘find’ it. The shoe never instigated his pathological obsession or unbalanced state of mind, but helped him find a way to project it, to express it emblematically. As he says to Louise “It’s not about the shoe is it. It was never about the shoe”. The writers’ flourish with the CCTV clip demonstrates that David  already harboured deeply ingrained issues and mental upheaval long before he ‘found’ the shoe.

The assured virtuosity of ‘Diddle Diddle Dumpling’ shows yet again that the work of Pemberton & Shearsmith has a level of inventiveness, bleaky comic vision and emotional depth other writers can only dream of and aren’t even attempting.  No-one else is coming close to the dramatic scale, multiplicity of telling detail and seeding complexity which they infuse into their writing.

‘Diddle Diddle Dumpling’ has an extraordinary brittle, mournful quality woven through it which subtly conveys a tangible sense of loss, grief and regret from the start. Distinguished by an absorbing, mesmerisingly heartfelt performance by Reece Shearsmith as a man so tragically damaged by bereavement that he can only find solace and meaning in pitiful obsession, its pervasive melancholic atmosphere and emotional eloquence are things rarely achieved across a six part drama series yet alone within just 30 minutes. That ‘Inside No.9’ has not so far even had a single BAFTA Television Awards nomination – yet alone win – for work of this masterful quality and creative originality is a travesty. It clearly shows how tunnel visioned and moribund the genre categories of television awards are when no place can be found in the BAFTA pantheon for a programme as magnificent and imperishable as this.

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Writers…Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith

Director…Guillem Morales

Producer…Adam Tandy

Executive Producer…Jon Plowman

Associate Producers…Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith

Cast

David…Reece Shearsmith

Louise…Keeley Hawes

Sally…Rosa Strudwick

Chris…Steve Pemberton

Ted…Mathew Baynton

Radio presenter…Danny Baker

Inside No.9 Review: Series Three: ‘Empty Orchestra’

*contains spoilers*

“No shop talk, remember. Tonight is all about fun.” (Connie: ‘Empty Orchestra’)

‘Empty Orchestra’ opens with the surreal image of a man in a comical fat sumo costume walking glumly along a corridor and through a door marked with a large ‘9’. The man (Greg) wears a look of weary resignation on his face as he approaches the door leading inside to a karaoke booth. As the door closes behind him a line from a song echoes from another booth – “And you’ll hum this tune forever.” It all suggests an evening to survive not enjoy, conjuring up the grim, enforced jollity of a night out where people are under strict orders to have ‘fun’ and inevitably don’t.

The threat of music continually playing (“…this tune forever…”) loudly and repetitively in a tightly confined space, anchors the idea that a small group of office workers coming together in a karaoke booth to celebrate a workmate’s (Roger) promotion are set to experience the hell that is other people. This sense of a ‘good time’ as a purgatory to be endured hangs heavily over ‘Empty Orchestra’ (the title is the literal translation of ‘karaoke’, but the word ‘empty’ is also suggestive of a soulless, deathless experience) but conversely, the story contains moments of touching poignancy and heartfelt emotion, offering redemption, hope and an optimistic ending.

This ‘Inside No. 9’ doesn’t journey to the pitch black recesses or examine the darkest extremes of behaviour. It stays firmly within recognisable perimeters of human nature, focusing on the turbulent waters of office politics and the small-scale and commonplace circumstances, motives and emotions it provokes. The six office employees (Greg, Connie, Fran, Roger, Janet and Duane) in the karaoke booth are challenged by sexual entanglement, job insecurity, life changing decisions, a marriage break-up and uncertain futures, deal with regret, jealousy, unrequited love, romance, unfaithfulness and bitterness or instigate deception, cruelty, revenge and bullying over the course of the real-time incidents and events depicted in Pemberton & Shearsmith’s potent narrative.

The claustrophobic, enclosed space of a karaoke booth – loud, dark, overpowering – with booming sounds and flashing lights, generates a stifling, disorientating atmosphere closing in and enveloping a group of people experiencing dissatisfaction and pain or negotiating expectations, hopes and dreams.

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The unnatural environment of the karaoke booth – an easy place to feel disconnected and removed from the inhibiting social conventions and observances of the workplace – creates the threat of a cauldron of heightened emotions being stirred and unleashed. The possibility of this group of work colleagues’ behaviour becoming freer, more unguarded also comes from the exhortation that is almost expected on a work’s night out to ‘let their hair down’, combined with the loosening effects of alcohol (and assumed too in the ‘pills roulette’ tantalisingly offered by Duane)

Positing office politics in all its detritus glory being played out in this incendiary setting promises the ‘hell (that) is other people’ of oppressive, even cruel behaviour. However ‘Empty Orchestra’ also allows that for every action there is a reaction, one which encourages the possibilities which come with liberating behaviour – the chance for redemptive happiness.

Pemberton and Shearsmith masterfully choose to make the performances of the karaoke songs by the characters an integral and highly distinctive element of this story. The songs become a conduit for the way their lives – and the feelings, emotions and dilemmas which come loaded with it – are revealed and explored throughout the narrative. The writers’ song choices are exemplary, providing a seamless interlinking of character and situation with appropriately matching lyrics, to the point of practically mirroring what the work colleagues are going through.

The performances of the songs are utterly mesmerising, they almost stand as self-contained mini dramas by themselves (there is a sense of time almost standing still as you watch them – in conception and execution, they’re perfect) in the way that they encapsulate the feelings and emotions of the characters as they sing them.

The songs are conveyors of emotional expression and character exploration in ‘Empty Orchestra’, an acknowledgement of the close connection between music and human emotion. A song’s dynamic structure, its temporal unfolding over a condensed few minutes, allows emotion to be expressed without restraint. Confrontation or confession can be articulated because the medium of song gives a layer of protection, filtered as it is through performance. Considerable personal emotions can be admitted covertly as someone can hide behind the song whilst at the same time express their true feelings. This is clearly the case with Connie and Greg (who are conducting an office affair) when they sing ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ literally behind the back of Fran (Greg’s girlfriend) but also in plain sight of her, as the lyrics are so close-to-the-bone in terms of being daringly confessional.

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Pemberton & Shearsmith use the karaoke songs with remarkable skill and dexterity and in multi-layered ways: To reveal aspects of character, layering emotions or motives as a way to progress the story; as narrative interplay, commentating or offering ironic observation on events as they’re introduced or unfold. There are moments in ‘Empty Orchestra’ where the minutely perfect timing of lyrics and narrative are breathtakingly intricate in the way they intervene and intercede with each other. This level of meticulousness is an absolute prerequisite in all of Shearsmith & Pemberton’s writing.

The way the karaoke performances work almost as self-contained mini dramas can be seen in the opening song ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ The crucial part played by the physical acting involved, in terms of gesture, movement and mime, cannot be underestimated. Greg begins the song alone as he tests the lights in the booth (the UV lighting option appears only momentarily but seeds in the audience’s mind. The effects UV lights cast will come back to haunt Greg and Connie later on) Connie then enters and joins him in song. The choreographed collusion on display relays the nature of their relationship and establishes their characters. Connie indulges in flirting and determined seduction with a flinty hardness in her eyes. She is bold, seemingly confident and coarse (her mimed allusion to fellatio – after Fran has arrived in the room – shows her behaviour is emboldened outside of the office environment) Greg, on the other hand, is the weaker partner, with a tense self-consciousness, hinting at a well of indecisiveness and selfishness in him.

The lyrics  of ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ and the way they’re enacted, helps power the narrative (clearly setting out the relationship between Greg, Connie & Fran and the deceit at the heart of it) and vividly shades character detail with striking economy. This song’s lyrics also contain another meaning for Greg, which is highlighted when Roger, their newly promoted boss, turns up. Almost pleadingly he sings “Don’t, don’t you want me?” as he looks across at him. Concerned about redundancy rumours the insecure Greg knows Roger will make the decision about which member of staff to sack and is worried his poor sales figures will put him in the firing line. It is indicative of Pemberton & Shearsmith’s skill at not only suffusing meaning across a script, but of ensuring that the songs they’ve assiduously chosen are made to work as hard as possible in service of the narrative.

The synthesis of song with character in elucidating their internal feelings and personal pain is provided by Roger’s excoriating “Since You’ve Been Gone” and the Connie/Greg/Fran relationship dilemma intimations of “I Know Him So Well’. Both contain kernels of emotional truth whilst also serving as acute summations of their current circumstances, the lyrics practically charting their personal journeys.

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Drunk and distressed, Roger almost howls ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’, reliving the pain and anger which his wife’s decision to divorce him has caused (Steve Pemberton rips his vocal cords apart, such is the level of anguished intensity with which he performs the song)

As Connie sings her part of the duet of ‘I Know Him So Well’ she really feels the lyrics’ pertinence to her situation. Her feelings move across a range of emotions – antagonism (“He needs fantasy and freedom”), distress (“No-one is completely on your side”) and despondency (“And though I move my world to be with him, still the gap between us is too wide”) Her mood switches in an instance – from despondency to elation – when she is misled into believing that Fran is the staff member Roger has decided to sack. Her response is perfectly timed to the chorus of the song as she sings “Oh SO good”, thinking that she will now have Greg all to herself.

The final song, which is played as the story reaches its conclusion, is ‘Titanium’, an anthem call to resilience and strength in the face of bullying and cruelty (“You shoot me down, but I won’t fall. Fire away. Fire away”) Janet, the deaf office worker, had been subjected to Connie’s toxicity from the moment she arrived for the staff’s karaoke celebrations. Driven by seething jealousy and corrosive bitterness, Connie moved from passive aggression, onto a cruel prank and finally overt prejudice against Janet’s ‘difference’. The powerful lyrics of ‘Titanium’ can be clearly heard as Janet finally stand up to her bully and exacts just revenge by telling Fran about Connie’s deceit and Greg’s unfaithfulness. Her lip reading skills meant the secret affair was betrayed from Connie and Greg’s own mouths.

Aside from placing the karaoke songs at the narrative centre in order to deepen understanding of the characters and layer meaning at crucial points of the story, Pemberton & Shearsmith’s script actively deploys visual clues and plays with different levels of meaning at particular points within scenes, in order to closely engage the audience with what they’re watching: A camera zoom in on a single line of ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ as its highlighted on the karaoke screen – “You’d better change it back or we will both be sorry” –  is a warning sign that Connie and Greg’s affair will have consequences; the playful exchange between Fran, Greg and Connie over which song he’s going to choose is also a humorous reference to the affair that Greg is conducting with Connie and which Fran is blissfully unaware of; the visual representation of ‘lip reading’ (which confirms Connie and Greg’s guilt to Fran) with the neon UV lipstick traces on their mouths from kissing, clearly seen under the UV lighting in the karaoke booth, when it is switched on.

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‘Empty Orchestra’ is also distinguished by the use of sound in the way the deaf character Janet’s acoustic experiences and perspective are conveyed and in the portrayal of Janet herself, through the sensitive, nuanced performance of Emily Howlett.

An aural point of view is brought to the fore in the narrative when the action centres on Janet. When she arrives in the karaoke booth she has to adjust/turn off her hearing aid due to the discordant heavy pounding of the sound system. At certain points the sound mix is faded or completely silent as a way of projecting and asserting Janet’s auditory experiences. This and the insertion of subtitles when Janet or another character communicates using sign language embraces inclusivity innovatively.

The character of Janet is portrayed as watchful and aware, keen-eyed and observant of others, as she deliberately keeps herself on the perimeters of the group. Subtle details indicate her empathy and sensitivity (seen in the concern she has for a distraught Roger and the caring touch she takes to hang up his jacket on a door coat hook) and her firm but understated ‘own person’ individuality (her choice of karaoke costume is Boy George, markedly different from the more obvious choices of Connie and Fran)

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One of the most touching moments in the story comes when Janet actively seeks a way to experience and enjoy the karaoke music due to her obvious attraction to fellow office worker Duane. She touches a loudspeaker so she can feel the vibrating sound waves as he performs ‘Wham Rap’. It is her way of touching him when she is too afraid to declare her feelings. This scene is echoed at the end when Duane takes Janet’s hand and places it on his chest so she can feel his heart beating beneath her fingers. Their tender connection is a redemptive and heart-warming conclusion – one that is full of hope. It is as moving and emotive as ‘Inside No.9’ has ever been.

‘Empty Orchestra’ is a very affecting piece. There are moments in it that stay with you and replay inside your head, such is the level of poignancy which builds within it, almost like a piece of music reaching a crescendo. The emotions and feelings which exert themselves through the characters’ performances of the songs as the lyrics directly connect with their experiences can’t be properly appreciated with just one viewing. There is so much going on in the interplay between timing, lyrics, narrative and character. This tale would benefit from multiple revisits, as is the case with every ‘Inside No.9’.

Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith continue to find ever more inventive methods to route and relay a story. With ‘Empty Orchestra’ they gave themselves the challenge of constructing a narrative using pop songs as a key element, whilst keeping it relatable and truthful in terms of character and emotion (“Strange how potent cheap music is” to quote Noel Coward) The approach they take of seeking new ways to innovate in order to never repeat themselves is paying creative dividends. Series three continues to raise the bar ever higher in terms of the sheer quality and extraordinary variety of stories brought forth. It is something the BBC and viewers should be every grateful for – Pemberton & Shearsmith’s imaginations burning ever brighter.

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Writers…Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith

Director…Guillem Morales

Producer…Adam Tandy

Executive Producer…Jon Plowman

Associate Producers…Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith

Cast

Greg…Reece Shearsmith

Roger…Steve Pemberton

Connie…Tamzin Outhwaite

Fran…Sarah Hadland

Janet…Emily Howlett

Duane…Javone Prince

Chantel…Rebekah Hinds

Inside No. 9 Review: Series Three: ‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’

*contains spoilers*

“She was devious and deadly. Perfect for a cryptic crossword setter.” (Professor Squires: ‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’)

There may be other ‘Inside No. 9’s that are more narratively experimental or layered with greater emotional complexity but for sheer boldness of concept and execution ‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’ would be hard to improve upon. It is one of the most dementedly brilliant, enthrallingly unsettling and striking ‘Inside No. 9’ stories there has been so far.

A three-hander with Pemberton, Shearsmith and a superb Alexandra Roach (as Professor Squires, Dr Jacob Tyler and Nina/Charlotte respectively) it features genuinely disquieting human behaviour and provocatively nasty psychopathic deeds contained within a disquisition on cryptic crosswords, in which the themes of artfulness, deception and revenge are played out, interwoven with theatrical and gothic allusions, both referential and intertextual.

Near the very start of ‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’ a torch is shone around a darkened room, alighting on several objects which will become central to the story: A photograph of Professor Squires (whose tutor’s room this is) holding a trophy, a statue of the ancient mythical creature of the Sphinx and a large crossword grid, waiting to be unveiled (both literally and metaphorically)  This opening scene is suffused with symbolic suggestion (being ‘in the dark’, searching for clues, attempting to uncover concealed meaning)  which are central to the dynamics of ‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’ story itself, and indeed, the operating principle for cryptic crosswords themselves.

The objects which the torch spots around Squire’s room are presented almost as if they’re props on a stage. They are foregrounded and given due prominence, just as an unloaded gun is minutes later, the one Squires almost playfully threatens Nina the intruder with when he first discovers her (a close shot showing it being put safely away in a desk drawer by Professor Squires is a foregrounding that turns out to be a forewarning) The specific way these objects are presented emphasises the metatheatricality of this particular Inside No. 9 story. The nature of theatre and performance is alluded to and explored throughout the script as the story develops. Theatrical references and connotations abound: Everything from Greek tragedy, revenge plays, Pygmalion, Chekhov’s gun, ‘Theatre of Blood’ to Peter Shaffer’s ‘Sleuth’ are either directly referred to or indirectly signalled. A theatrical sense of artifice is highlighted by the use of the night-time storm raging outside to announce key themes and plot developments as they occur with flashes of lightning and thunder claps permeating the professor’s room. They are like a visual and aural equivalent of a musical fanfare, heralding the arrival of something important which should be paid special attention.

Inside No.9 series 3

Much of ‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’ centres on the battle of the wills between Professor Squires and Nina. Their initial hesitancy quickly develops into apparent mutual admiration and the good-willed rapport of a pupil-teacher relationship, as the classics tutor mentors Nina in the art and deduction of cryptic crosswords (the professor chose Sphinx as his crossword setter pseudonym because the overtones associated with the ravenous mythical creature’s deadly riddle were pleasing to him) When their real feelings, motivations, intentions and attempted outmanoeuvres are revealed, their verbal exchanges take on entirely different meanings – that of scrutinizing and role playing as they prod, probe and size each other up. Their guises are performances which conceal their true selves behind fake faces: “That is so clever. I knew you were devious” (Nina); “Don’t guess Nina dear. Deduct” (Squires); “Don’t patronise me professor. I only want to learn” (Nina); “Another word for big picture, a grand scheme” (Squires) “Plan” (Nina)

Their banter is actually a stratagem, involving deception, ambiguity and manipulation behind the back-and-forth word play, as they attempt to outwit each other to achieve their ends. As each make attempts to gain the upper hand and exert control over the other the filling in of clues on the crossword grid becomes their major focus. The more answers  one of them reveals they know the more the power play switches in their favour. The prior knowledge that they both display – as the crossword answers prove to be prescient of the disturbing events unfolding – show the pair each had a carefully thought out plan: “The asphyxiation of the Sphinx” (Nina); “I swapped cups” (Squires). It isn’t coincidental that Nina (which far from incidentally is also the name of a special feature of a crossword grid) tells Professor Squires that her ‘boyfriend’ is studying architecture at the university. Architecture after all is about design and structure in planning. This is analogous of the painstakingly careful planning both Nina and Squires think they’re executing on each other.

The seeded clues which Pemberton and Shearsmith plant throughout the narrative are something they’re renowned for. These devices tick away like time bombs – intimations, connotations and subtle traces of information – and prove to be incendiary over thirty minutes: “My bark is worse than my bite” (Squires) comes back to haunt the professor when he is forced to eat a ‘slither’ of Nina/Charlotte’s flesh by Doctor Tyler in a diabolical act of revenge; “Competitive solving can be quite combative. Blood has been spilled” (Squires) is revealed by Nina/Charlotte to be literally true in her brother Simon’s case – the professor’s cheating him out of winning the Cambridge Cruciverbalist Club’s trophy lead directly to his suicide.

In many ways the pair’s writing and cryptic crosswords share similar attributes of misdirection and concealment. Just as cryptic crosswords involve making connections from elusive phrases and deciphering lines to find answers, so Inside No. 9 ploughs much the same furrow: Lines are schemes containing new or double meanings, opaque phrases acquire depth or become revelatory. This shared operating strategy is underscored by way of Professor Squire’s explanation to Nina about how cryptic crosswords work: “I can give you some pointers”; “Not a word wasted”; “Every word is chosen for its letters…and don’t take anything for granted” all of which are redolent and characteristic of Pemberton and Shearsmith’s writing too.

Inside No.9 series 3

The professor’s true nature comes sharply into focus once the effects of the neurotoxin poison (from a deadly species of fish) renders marine biology student Nina/Charlotte physically immobile as the toxins start to shut down her body. Squires is shown to be lascivious and sexually aggressive. For him young women are conquests he feels fully entitled to enjoy (As he says to Dr Tyler “Bloody dangerous leaving me along with a girl in this condition. All I could do not to slip her one”). In an extremely discomforting scene he kisses the slowly dying Nina/Charlotte full on the lips and moves his hand under her skirt and up her thigh. We begin to comprehend that his choice of the name Sphinx is an apt one for him. He is a devourer of flesh to satisfy his sexual desires: “And so the mighty Sphinx consumes the flesh of his conquest” (Tyler) Choosing ‘underslip’ as one of the answers for his newly compiled crossword heightens this sense of his moral slipperiness. The obvious enjoyment he took in deceiving Nina and winning the battle of wits with her suggest the scope cryptic clues have given him to practice cunning and duplicitousness bleed into other parts of his life and are deeply ingrained in him.  The implications from this are that he likes to be in control and wield power. As he admits he is not above “showing off”. What other reason is there to explain his motivation for compiling the crossword which spelt out (literally) the key parts of both Nina/Charlotte and his own pre-planned double crosses. As Dr Jacob Tyler points out, Squires’ love of showing off and need to be in control enabled Tyler to successfully set his own trap of betrayal and revenge: “How do you explain this? You compiled this crossword two days ago. It proves premeditation”; “You even concealed the murder weapon. I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist” (Tyler) Squires is truly hoist by his own petard. His own crossword has, to all intents and purposes, become a signed confession of guilt.

Inside No.9 series 3

Nina/Charlotte’s terrible fate has gothic resonance woven right through it. Its motifs of female entrapment/constraint, the ancient and archaic, sexual threat and unequal power are all implicitly present: Nina/Charlotte is literally trapped/imprisoned inside her own body due to the effects of the poison in the switched cups; the old-fashioned and rarefied setting of a tutor’s room at an old Cambridge college; the sexual threat from Squires after Nina/Charlotte is incapacitated produces a strong feeling of queasiness; the representation of unequal power is clearly seen in the reprehensible behaviour of both Squires and Tyler, with Squires committing sexual assault on a helpless woman and Tyler coldly sacrificing his daughter in order to exact the poetic revenge he has envisioned for years – “This is my revenge Nigel”.

There is a tragic poignancy attached to Nina/Charlotte, a sense that she doesn’t deserve what has cruelly befallen her. Two images of her are impossible to forget: A wide shot as she is sat alone and vulnerable on a chair in Squires’ room, unable to escape or fight back; the close-up shot on her face with a single tear running down it, as she learns and takes in her father’s betrayal of her and the appalling extent he is willing to go in his desire for revenge.

Inside No.9 series 3

Dr Jacob Tyler is an erudite psychopath, as well-versed in the ancient texts of the classics as Squires is. He uses this knowledge to enact a vengeance that references the cornerstones of Greek tragedy and the ancient revenge play – murder, madness and cannibalism (primarily Seneca’s ‘Thyestes’)

His malicious retribution on Squires progressively builds by calculated degrees to a horrific climax, where what he imparts to the professor is so terrible to contemplate that a subtle but direct invocation to suicide – “A little present for you there Nigel” (Tyler) – leads Squires to immediately blow his brains out. The unveiling of Tyler’s revenge begins with him instructing the professor in a brisk, business-like way: “I want you to eat her. Not all of her of course. Just a slither.”  His outrageous and vile request is reluctantly submitted to by means of threat, blackmail (‘leverage’ as Tyler calls it) and blatant deceit.

The slow burn madness of Tyler has taken years to ferment and grow: “Its crazy isn’t it what the unhinged mind is capable of”. Squires is driven to his sudden act of madness (where suicide is seen as the only way out) when he is told that the young man, whose death he was held responsible for, was Tyler’s son and the final disclosure, that both Charlotte and Simon (the young man) were in fact his children, not Tyler’s. The professor’s nemesis deliberately imparts these psychologically shattering revelations to ensure Squires is mentally completely broken apart.

Shearsmith & Pemberton layer Tyler’s revenge with multiple textual references, including Greek tragedy, mythology and early revenge plays. Their use of a wide range of texts and acknowledgement of the interrelationships between them add weight and depth to the climactic scenario, gives additional meaning to the lines spoken by Tyler and Squires and anchors the audience’s knowledge and understanding of the denouement. It helps to magnify and bring extra frisson to the final outcome of this exceptional Inside No. 9 story.

‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’ exerts a hypnotic hold from beginning to end. It has such a heady brew of influences which Pemberton & Shearsmith’s astonishing inventiveness and innate intelligence use and control impeccably. It contains one of the most visceral moments an Inside No. 9 (indeed any British television) has ever had. The scene involving the cutting, cooking and consuming of a piece of human flesh is shudderingly grisly and repellently grim, as it should be. However it is done to serve the interests of the story and not for sensational effect. When Tyler orders Squires to commit cannibalism he does it with a precise, coldly clinical logic. It is depicted in this way in order to show how deeply Tyler’s madness has driven his reasoning to the very depths of depravity.

The episode is proof – if any was needed – that Shearsmith & Pemberton possess two of the most extraordinary imaginations of any writers working in television today. That a plot revolving around cryptic crosswords could be this compelling, ingenious and intense – where every single line counts – illustrates the duo can choose any subject to weave a story around. It is their exceptional talent, the propensity and discipline to work extremely hard at what they do, an incredible attention to detail and their labour of love passion that enables them to do it.

Inside No.9 series 3

Writers…Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith

Director…Guillem Morales

Producer…Adam Tandy

Executive Producer…Jon Plowman

Associate Producers…Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith

Cast

Professor Nigel Squires…Steve Pemberton

Dr Jacob Tyler…Reece Shearsmith

Nina/Charlotte…Alexandra Roach