Review: Inside No 9 – Once Removed




And so when the episode ends, you’re left marvelling at all the little clues that have been littered throughout the half hour. Indeed, in a marvellous twist and turn of events, some of the clues may not be entirely clear on first viewing, and will require at least two more goes before everything falls into place. It’s a fair bet that before long, somebody enterprising on youtube will have released their own edit, to place events in a more logical sequence. But we’ve probably already said too much.

Alright, let’s back up a bit: it may feel like we’ve come into this review at the end – which indeed we have, because that’s how this episode works. It’s not the first time an episode of Inside No 9 has begun at the end – that would be season two’s Nana’s Party, but this smacks more of Harold Pinter’s 1978 play Betrayal, travelling down the narrative as it does backwards through time.

(but after that)

Which is not to say that the opening five minutes are incoherent – rather, it’s that we’re thrown in at the deep end and required to register a lot of information. This is clearly the aftermath of some terrible events. There are plenty of things and clues – like a rolled up carpet and an ornamental hare – that will reward repeated viewings. The second section of Once Removed concentrates on exactly what has happened and how (the why will wait a little longer)

(but after that)

Let’s be clear here: its not like each section directly corresponds with the period of time it discusses (the titles say ’10 minutes earlier’, whereas the sequences themselves are closer to five, allowing a bit of wriggle room as the writers move their chess pieces into place). And it’s not even until the third section that Steve Pemberton’s character (looking curiously like he’s cosplaying as Michael McIntyre) arrives. He’s a nervous estate agent banking on a quick sale, and is startled when the rug is pulled out from under his feet. There’s a great joke involving bubble wrap, which also underscores how densely an Inside No 9 script is written. On the face of it, Once Removed is a fun piece of macabre froth, albeit smarter than the average piece of television. However, it’s even smarter than that: there’s not a single line of dialogue – including the ones that might seem like throwaway frippery – that isn’t serving double duty. We say this a lot about Inside No 9, and it’s true as ever: screenwriting students would do well to study these scripts.

(but after that)

In the last two sections of the piece is where everything comes together – or falls apart, depending on how (and when) you look at it – because by this time the (oven) gloves are off. David Calder is wonderful as Percy, playing senility consummately well, but not overshadowing the fact that a lot of the role is there for laughs. There’s a joke that we saw a version of in the most recent series of The League Of Gentlemen (perhaps suggestive of how close to one another those two scripts were produced). Emilia Fox (who, for various reasons, we don’t see nearly enough of) manages inadvertently to pack menace into the seemingly innocuous line ‘I’d hate for you to miss that package’, but holding it all together is the portrait of a woman barely holding it together – Monica Dolan is excellent as May, and also responsible for a gorgeous closing sight gag that essentially turns the whole premise of this episode upside down. But to say more would be to say too much.

And that’s how we started. Shall we start again?


Review – Inside No 9, ‘Zanzibar’




This is now the fourth series of Inside No 9, which means by the time we’re done, there will be more episodes of this than the markedly more famous League Of Gentlemen¸ which recently celebrated its twentieth anniversary. There hasn’t yet been a film of Inside No 9  though, although it is presumably only a matter of time before Pemberton and Shearsmith decide to deliver an Amicus studios type portmanteau movie.


In the meantime, we have this, the first episode of the latest series and as may now be expected, the audience is not being eased in gently with a comparatively ‘easy’ episode: this story is told entirely in iambic pentameter, leading to some neat conversational cul-de-sacs as well as cute jokes (the ‘stress’ on one character having at least a double meaning). The series therefore starts on the right foot both figuratively and grammatically (even a song that’s thrown away near the end of the episode is a neat allusion to the style).


The Hotel Zanzibar – appropriately enough – has just nine floors, and we’re introduced all the main characters by a suitably Puckish Fred (Yaygann Ayeh), a bellboy who’s discreet and fond of plain talking (‘It’s the only language I understand,’ he says). It’s not long before events reach farcical proportions, and while not all misunderstandings can be blamed on the bellboy, it’s up to him and his girlfriend Colette – played by Raised By Wolves and Upstart Crow favourite Helen Monks – to keep all the (soiled) plates spinning.



Way back in series one, when reviewing The Understudy, (also directed by David Kerr), we suggested that those teaching Macbeth could do worse than stick that episode on for half an hour. We make a similar claim here for a broader understanding of Shakespeare: there’s a snatch of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, blended with Twelfth Night and The Comedy Of Errors – or, as the old joke goes – it recalls that Shakespeare play where there’s a series of misunderstandings about a pair of twins. There’s some exquisite wordplay – and, as with all the best Shakespearean jokes, most of them work as straight dialogue even when you don’t spot the gag – and indeed, not all of the rhyming couplets precisely rhyme.


By the mid-way point, there are several plots whizzing by so quickly, it requires gripping on tightly to the hostess trolley to keep up with them all: Rory Kinnear plays the two young brothers who never quite see one another, and end up annoying the other characters through no fault of their own. Marcia Warren proves to be a good sport, and there’s a great turn from Kevin Eldon playing a hypnotist (but not an evil hypnotist ..). Pay close enough attention, however, and you’ll be able to spot the ‘hidden hare’ that’s been the favourite of regular Inside No 9  viewers.


In many ways, this is typical Inside No 9 fare – as if there was really any such thing: look at it closely, and the plot is elegantly simple. But the journey is beautifully convoluted and finely balanced. The reveal is clear for anyone who’s familiar with Shakespeare (and indeed, anyone who’s paying attention to Bill Patterson’s rhyming couplets about blue blood), but as always with Shearsmith and Pemberton, there are a couple more surprises to delight those who think they’ve got it all worked out before the end.


At one point, a character places a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on his door, which might appear to be counterproductive to the aims of those behind Inside No 9. And while this first episode does not disturb, it’s smart, funny and fast moving, and does more work in thirty minutes than many comedies do in six episodes.


Welcome back.   


Sending Another Script Off



Spent the last couple of days reediting and polishing off an old script. Normally, this is a major sign of NOT BEING ABLE TO LEAVE THE DAMN THING ALONE (and who’s to say that it isn’t this time, too?) but at least time there’s a purpose to it: I had a deadline to meet. The BBC Writer’s Room has an occasional (actually twice a year) submissions open window – one for drama, one for comedy, and I decided to send something in. This time round, it’s the Drama window. I’ve only just remembered in the writing of this that I had already submitted something to the Comedy window last year, which utterly failed to get anywhere. This time, I’d spent a while doing some tightening up of the Mary Shelley script that I’d written last year (interesting, since the script has actually been produced at least once already in front of an actual audience), and the original intention was to change it slightly from a stage script to a radio script, which would’ve brought a certain set of challenges as, although all the characters are somewhat verbose (bloody poets, to coin a phrase), the play itself is reasonably visual, and plays with the chemistry (or otherwise) between the characters. I think, on some muted level, I was going to change the play from stage to radio before I submitted it to the BBC Writers Room because I probably felt – if they accepted it, it was more likely to be produced as a radio play rather than a TV film (particularly as the narrative is continuous and in one room, as opposed to several scenes all over the place). But then I told myself to get over myself: even if this submission were to be accepted (and that’s cheerfully unlikely, even if it’s any good, just down to the sheer volume of applicants), it’s reasonable to assume that successful scripts will serve only as ‘calling cards’, and never actually get produced, in lieu of whatever else the writer can cope with. This reminds me of one of my only clear memories of school (I remember bizarrely little of school, which suggests that it was an absolutely horrifying time, and I’ve repressed it all): a teacher saying that people aren’t actually scared of failure, as much as they’re afraid of success. You know the sort of thing: you’re good at a thing, people see that you’re good at the thing, they say well done for being good at the thing, and then they say the terrifying: ‘what else have you got?’. I remember at the age of eleven, or however old I was, that this was a genuinely new concept for me: the pressure of success. The weight of expectation.

And even so, I was surprised by how I felt when I hit the ‘submit’ button to send my script to BBC towers. Particularly as  I’d already done it with a different script last year (although, as I’ve mentioned, I managed to forget doing that). This time around, however, I felt oddly anxious. I have genuinely no idea if that’s because my subconscious thinks the script is awful (‘THEY’LL HATE IT’), or conversely, if it knows it to be pretty good (‘THEY’LL ASK FOR MORE AND THAT’S ALL I’VE GOT DAMMIT’). It’s sent off now, however, and it’s out there, free of my interference and meddling re-editing. It is (as all you established writers out there know already) a good habit to get into: find deadlines, competitions, festivals – reasons to finish the work, and get it out there.

And now on to the next one.