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6 September 2007 Edition

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TV Review : Gritty drama's first episode shows promise

Hidden Tiger

Celtic Tiger. There. I said it. Lets not refer to it again. I haven’t used the term for about four years now, which is a relatively long time to have passed without a definitive piece of TV drama that views the economic boom in  the South of Ireland through the gritty prism of the marginalised, the forgotten and the plain ordinary people of modern Ireland.     
Economic growth, (a much cuddlier term, don’t you think?) has not raised all boats. Neither has it lifted to any large degree, the quality of gritty Irish urban realism, with the majority of TV dramas being focussed on the new professional class. 
Even junkie prostitutes on Fair City have ended up with their own empires, finding love, happiness, material redemption and higher IQ’s along the way. If you’re a down-and-out, manically depressed, despised soap character today, don’t worry.  With the miracle of television, not to mention economic growth, you will soon be transformed into a comfortable, popular, butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-your-mouth super parent/partner. A salt of the earth within in 20 formatted episodes.
Ah, if only real life were so simple.
With the creators of Prosperity having already cut their teeth on the dreary lives of Adam & Paul, the stage would appear to be set for an entertaining, unsentimental, gritty yarn.
The economic boom’s flip side is its ability to hide its levels of social neglect and poverty. And this is where episode one took us, Stacey’s Story, being the first segment of a four-part drama on the lives of four different characters over one day.
Spending her days in the monotonous grind of Bed & Breakfast accommodation, Stacey (Siobhán Shanahan) is a vulnerable and lonely 17-year-old Dublin single parent.  She meanders from social welfare office to shopping centre, where she befriends a friendly middle-aged security guard, who feels a genuine concern for the girl who sits around the shopping centre each day.  Boredom and dreary isolation stalks her every waking moment. 
Her useless and uncommitted boyfriend merely adds to her homeless problem and only serves to fuel a raw wound in relations with her tough and straight talking sister, Donna. The wound is not fully explained and will no doubt be dealt with in the weeks ahead.
Nothing happens. But neither should it. Stacey’s life is that of a ghost, visible only to those on society’s margin, some of whom are warm and friendly, all of whom are convincing in their roles. The acting is of the high standard that we have come to expect from our younger actors. The conversation bristles with Dublin wit, spoken with lively and authentic Dublin accents.  Both of which added freshness and pace to a deliberately uneventful story.
Prosperity has laid its cards firmly on the table. It will have to live up to its ideals. It will be a difficult task to wed ideals to entertaining stories that will keep an audience’s attention over four hourly episodes.
Episode one has past the test on numerous levels.  Sure it’s grim, but Angela’s Ashes it most certainly isn’t. Stacey is a dedicated, though utterly bored, young mum, despite her admission that sometimes she wishes she wasn’t a mother.  It is very easy to understand why.  To sympathise with her is easy and most importantly Prosperity works because the viewer is forced to care.
Coming hot on the heels of Pure Mule, you would have to admit that RTE is producing decent, homegrown drama of late. Prosperity is another that shows great promise. The acting is top notch and the style thus far is as gritty and as one could possibly hope for. The term Celtic Tiger was never uttered, though it hung in the air like a bad smell. An accomplished piece of drama, we may at last be witnessing the rebirth of the gritty Irish urban realism.
BY PHILLIP CONNOLLY

Prosperity.  RTÉ 2, Mondays 9.30 

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