Thursday 21 March 2019

Pat Stacey: TV3's new soap gets off to a rocking good start

Red Rock on TV3 episode 1 The Kiely family at the hospital as Darren lies unconscious
Red Rock on TV3 episode 1 The Kiely family at the hospital as Darren lies unconscious
Dean Holden (David Crowley) fooling around at the Red Rock Garda Station.
Red Rock on TV3: Gardai Angela Tyrell (Andrea Irvine) and Sharon Cleere (Jane McGrath) on a house call

WHAT first came to mind when TV3 announced that it was planning a twice-weekly soap called Red Rock was the excellent 1993 neo-noir film Red Rock West, a favourite of mine starring Nicolas Cage as a drifter who wanders into a Wyoming town, is mistaken for a hitman and ends up in all sorts of bother.

There aren’t any contract killers – so far, anyway – in Red Rock, which is set in a fictional Dublin seaside suburb and shot on location in Dun Laoghaire and Howth, but at least there was a killing in last night’s opening episode.

As EastEnders demonstrated way back in 1985, the best way for a new soap to catch an audience’s attention is to throw a body on screen in the first minute of the first episode.

In this case it’s one Darren Kiely, eldest son of a family of trawlermen who turned to crime when the cod-fishing industry dried up. He’s found battered to a pulp on the pier.

CCTV footage shows that Darren was apparently beaten up by Michael Hennessy, scion of the posh, well-off family who are the Kielys’ mortal enemies.

When Darren later dies, all hell breaks loose. The ones trying to keep a lid on the billowing flames are the local gardai, headed by Superintendent James McKay (Richard Flood). But there’s a complication: McKay happens to be married to Hennessy daughter Claire (Pandora McCormick), an ambitious lawyer who’s defending her brother.

The Kielys and the Hennessys have hidden entanglements of their own. In a sprinkling of Romeo and Juliet, Kiely daughter Katie (India Mullen), who works in the Hennessys’ pub, is having a secret relationship with handsome eldest Hennessy son David (Adam Weafer) . . . at least until the malevolent matriarch of the Hennessy clan, Patricia (a splendidly haughty and immediately hissable Cathy Belton), aburptly gives Katie the sack.

Meanwhile, down in the Garda station, a focal point of Red Rock, there are more sticky points. While perusing CCTV footage, honest but ambitious young garda Sharon Cleere (Jane McGrath) spots one of her superiors canoodling with a possibly underage girl at a service station. She’s dissuaded from ratting him out by her useless partner Paudge Brennan, a terrific comic-relief character played with gusto by Pat Ryan.

There was a lot packed into this first episode – too much to squeeze in here, to be honest – and it’s a credit to the series’ showrunner and chief writer Peter McKenna, who has a long and impressive track record in serial drama here and in the UK, that he juggled the various elements so deftly.

Soaps have a long tradition of strong female characters. Red Rock already has one in Patricia Hennessy, and tonight’s second episode (which I’ve already seen) introduces another with the arrival of brassy, estranged Kiely matriarch Bridget (Denise McCromick), a human dynamite fuse just waiting to ignite an explosion.

While her hardman husband Vincent (Paul Roe) counsels calm until they bury their son, she comes across like a Dublin Lady Macbeth, egging her gormless youngest son Keith (Stephen Cromwell) on to get even with the Hennesys.

Red Rock is smartly written, well acted and looks classy (that comparatively hefty budget is evident in the production values). Even for a committed soap agnostic like me, it’s good fun. Whether it draws the viewers is another matter. But it’s giving it a good shot.

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