TV review: EastEnders - Billy’s Olympic Nightmare, Shakespeare Uncovered - David Tennant on Hamlet
EastEnders - Billy’s Olympic Nightmare, BBC red button, available since Monday, July 16
Perry Fenwick in Billy's Olympic Nightmare Photo: BBC
Shakespeare Uncovered - David Tennant on Hamlet, BBC2, Tuesday, July 17, 11.20pm
As the principal purveyor of melodramatic misery to the masses, EastEnders doesn't really do comedy. With adulteries to dwell on, dark deeds to divulge and fires in the Queen Vic to put out, the show's scriptwriters usually seem to regard comic interludes as something of a narrative encumbrance., Which is probably why EastEnders - Billy's Olympic Nightmare was extracted from the soap itself and consigned to the broadcasting netherworld that is the BBC red button.
- The title says it all. Billy Mitchell (Perry Fenwick), destined for glory as a foot soldier in the UK's army of Olympic Torch bearers, is suffering torments in his sleep. The special mini-episode of the soap opens with Mitchell proudly carrying the torch through the streets of Walford, only for his shorts to fall down around his ankles.
- He awakes with a shudder, which almost spoils his manicure - the eyes of the world will be upon his hands, he argues, so it is vital they look their best - but the waking world brings no respite as Mitchell realises he is late for an important torch-bearers' photo call. Cue a mad dash around London in the company of Greek cab driver Hercules, played by actor and comic Omid Djalili.
- From here on it was a case of showcasing various Olympic venues and roping in guest stars for Mitchell to interact with. Kriss Akabusi, Matt Baker, Tessa Sanderson and Kelly Holmes were among the celebrities who had absolutely no problem adapting to EastEnders' house acting style.
- In the final scene, Mitchell, accompanied by a stridently patriotic Elgar soundtrack, makes an impassioned speech about what the Olympics means to ordinary British folk. All credit to Fenwick, who succeeded here in turning a potentially cringe-making moment into something rather moving.
- The 17 minutes passed effortlessly enough, but it was all rather lazy, obvious and forgettable. If EastEnders' scriptwriters are bold enough to bury characters alive or swap babies in the service of drama, surely they could have applied the same audacity to a red button comedy and produced something actually worth watching?
- The final episode of Shakespeare Uncovered set David Tennant on Hamlet, to rather satisfying effect. The actor played the character on stage and screen in 2009, and the experience clearly left a powerful impression upon him. The same can be said of others to have played the role and who were interviewed for the programme, including Jude Law, Ben Whishaw, Simon Russell Beale and the one-time youngest professional actor ever to play Hamlet, David Warner. The latter, rather reassuringly, confessed to not understanding entire swathes of the text even as he delivered them.
- Stage and social historians were also introduced, and provided a fascinating context to several of the play's themes. The appearance of a ghost, for example, would not have disturbed an Elizabethan audience, while the very discussion of suicide would have been controversial. The play, literature's most profound exploration of grief, bereavement and mortality, is lent even greater poignancy by the knowledge that Shakespeare's son, who died at the age of 11, was named Hamnet.
- Most importantly, I discovered that the Royal Shakespeare Company's shop sells pencil cases with the words "2B or not 2B" printed on them. So that's my niece's birthday present catered for, then.
Production information displayed was believed correct at time of review. Information may change over the run of the show.