Sunday, September 13, 2009

'She'll be giving birth to a Nike Air Max'

Good luck to Dan Coffey and Emmet Kirwan with Sarah and Steve, the follow-up to the 10-minute comic gem Dan and Becs. From Friday's Irish Independent -

Move over Dan and Becs - there's a new couple in town
RTE's new relationship drama is TV for the YouTube generation, writes Susan Daly
Friday September 11 2009

Anyone with a video camera and an online computer can star in their own show. YouTube is littered with millions of clips of deluded folks babbling inanely about their lives, loves and opinions.

RTE2, which has been touting itself as the youth-oriented channel for some time now, managed to tap into the new media obsession three years ago when it gave the green light to a pilot show called Dan and Becs.

It developed into two series of 10-minute episodes which intercut the video diaries of on-off south Dublin couple Dan and Becs, played by Dave Coffey and Holly White. While it looked like it was recorded in someone's bedroom (it was), it was cleverly scripted by Coffey and acted with tongue firmly in cheek.

The then 24-year-old Coffey had written episodes in his spare time as he worked as a film and TV editor, and it was picked up by Accomplice Television (producers of Pure Mule and Bachelors Walk).

The show, which poked gentle fun at its affluent Southside characters, became a sleeper hit, attracting a very decent 37pc of its target 15-to 24-year-old audience at its peak. That translates into 197,000 viewers, which was pretty excellent for a late-night slot that shifted around either side of the 11pm mark.

Now Coffey has returned with another series of bite-sized television in the shape of Sarah and Steve. The format is similar: 10 x 10-minute episodes charting the relationship and lives of the titular couple. There are two major differences this time. Sarah and Steve is set in Tallaght, completely new territory for Killiney native Coffey. And he and White have made way for actors Charlene Gleeson and Emmet Kirwan, who both grew up on the same estate in Tallaght.

Coffey says he would have been wary of trying to accurately portray a young couple from Tallaght on his own. This time, he shared the writing with Kirwan, who based many of the incidents in Sarah and Steve on his own experiences.

"The whole point with Dan and Becs was that it was written from the inside out," says Coffey. "I wrote about what I knew. It had always been my intention to get a writer in for Sarah and Steve, and I would come in as the director."

He had Kirwan in mind for the role of Steve after seeing him in a play called Monged. When they worked together on another project, by happy coincidence Coffey found the talented actor could also write.

"He said he was working on a sitcom of his own, and it really clicked with me then. We came up with characters and what might happen to them over the series."

Dan and Becs, mockumentary though it was, had more than a grain of truth in its portrayal of 'Dort-speak' Dublin. Sarah and Steve is even more truthful, says Kirwan, less sarcastic and a touch darker.

"Dan and Becs were a bit self-obsessed, a bit ditzy," says Kirwan, "I didn't want to write characters like that for Tallaght. I didn't want to slag anyone but I wanted to show that Tallaght can be a dark place, and dark things can happen and from that you get a darker shade of comedy."

It's safe to say that Coffey would have had accusations of inauthenticity levelled at him had he tried to do the same. "It's funny," says Kirwan, "A lot of middle-class people tend to get offended on behalf of working-class people."

Sarah and Steve doesn't labour under such a softly-softly approach. One clip shows Steve (Kirwan) impersonating a junkie who tries to get him to give him a free bottle of David Beckham aftershave. Another had Sarah (Gleeson) advising how she will give an enemy such a kick that she'll be "giving birth to a Nike Air Max".

Kirwan hopes that people will have the same reaction to it as he did to Dan and Becs. "I thought it was great, really well observed, which was good because a lot of stuff that goes on RTE is not really on the money."

Kirwan's test audience, his family and friends in Tallaght, have loved the episodes he has shown them. Ask if any other writer has got working-class Dublin right since Roddy Doyle, and he cites playwrights Mark O'Rowe and Ken Harmon, among others.

"I think what happens when people talk about writers in working-class Dublin, people tend to be aware of Roddy Doyle. But you don't hear middle-class writers all being compared to Sebastian Barry," he laughs.

His co-star Charlene Gleeson, like Kirwan, already has a number of TV, film and theatre acting credits to her name. Her performance as Angeline Ball's daughter Jolene in RTE's Trouble in Paradise was widely praised. She too is from Tallaght, from the same estate as Kirwan.

"Emmet was the right person at the right time," says Coffey. "It was the same with Charlene. When we were casting the role, we had a few names in mind, and Emmet said that although he had never worked with Charlene, he had heard her reputation was really good. Then he worked with her in a short film when we were writing the pilots for Sarah and Steve and he came back and said, 'That's it, I can vouch for her, she's brilliant'."

Gleeson and Kirwan have more acting experience under their belts than Coffey and White had when they shot Dan and Becs, so you could argue that a 10-minute show shouldn't make a huge difference to their already rising stars.

Coffey says that Dan and Becs changed his life. He gave up his job as an editor when RTE said they liked the pilot he had written. "It was a bit of a gamble; there was no guarantee that it would be made it into a full series. But it effectively started a whole career that I never thought was for me."

Holly White, who writes a fashion column for the Irish Independent's Weekend magazine, also benefitted from the exposure Dan and Becs gave her. "I would say that it opened a few doors for Holly," says Coffey, who is still in regular contact with her. "It definitely helped her get into a course in RADA in London for a summer, just having a show behind her on national television."

Emmet Kirwan is not resting on his laurels. He has written a new play, Half-Three Heroes, for the Dublin Youth Theatre, which opens in the Project Arts Centre next month.

"Ireland is very small and it could be that hardly anyone will see Sarah and Steve," he says philosophically, "10 minutes a week is a short time".

Saying that, he has already had people come up to him at the Electric Picnic to congratulate him on the show. They had spotted the preview clips of Sarah and Steve posted on -- you've guessed it -- YouTube by the production company. How appropriate. Sarah and Steve is on RTE2 on Monday night at 10.50pm

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