Karaoke and The South Bank Show

TV REVIEWS

Potter sceptics will have had their worst fears confirmed. Not five minutes in to Karaoke (BBC1) and "television's greatest dramatist" is disappearing up the rectal passage of a television dramatist. We first meet Daniel Feeld (Albert Finney) as he is being given a barium enema in an attempt to discover the origin of a griping abdominal pain. This will be misdiagnosed, just as Potter's own pancreatic cancer was, as the result of a spastic colon. At the time, this scene strikes you as absolutely characteristic of Potter in its silky pleasure at mentioning the unmentionable. "You'll feel as though you want to defecate," murmurs the doctor performing the operation. "Needless to say I'd be extremely obliged to you if you don't."

By the end of Karaoke, though, after you've struggled to untangle a plot about a fictional television playwright, whose current screenplay also contains a fictional playwright (played by Ian McDiarmid, who bears a startling physical resemblance to Dennis Potter), even a devotee might begin to wonder whether that opening scene doesn't have a larger significance. If we had looked more closely at the medical monitor, crammed with the shadowy sinuosities of the lower bowel, could we have spotted a cameo profile of the author? Si monumentum requiris, circumspice? Potter, of course, is hardly unaware of the joke. It may even be a sly final gift to the critics, because he knew full well the hazards of this sort of thing. In his preface to the published screenplays of Karaoke and Cold Lazarus, he describes the "almost overwhelming temptation" to further complicate the scheme by having Daniel Feeld effectively write his own death scene. "Fortunately, the temptations were finally scourged and driven off," he continues, "otherwise the whole edifice would have been twisted into the kind of game, or cheat, that it had so far resisted becoming."

Some viewers are likely to feel cheated even so - dismayed to find quite so much that is familiar, so little that has the fresh splash of newness. Potter, with the recklessness of imminent death upon him, wrote that the plays are "as fitting a summation as they are a testament both to my character and my career". Certainly the opening episode of Karaoke appears to offer a condensed tour of his principal artistic trademarks - a monorail trip through Potterland. There's the erotic obsession with directable women, in this case a bar hostess who may, or may not, end up garrotted; the potency of cheap music, the dread of hospitals, the dark potential of creative invention, the delicious exercise of spleen - and this sense of a career regurgitated is unlikely to diminish as the series unfolds. Karaoke ends with the singing of "Pennies From Heaven" and references to the Methodist hymn which Potter quoted in his final interview with Melvyn Bragg - "Will there be any stars, any stars in my crown". Anyone who has seen Potter's play Double Dare, in which a television playwright finds his lines coming disturbingly to life, will hear a stronger echo still of earlier work. Karaoke is funny and unexpectedly gentle at times. For the moment, though, it is more an aide- memoire to Potter's past achievements than a fitting memorial to them.

As Daniel Feeld, Albert Finney gives it his all - indeed he's out of breath with acting, delivering a gasping, rumpled performance that is as characteristic of his style as the script is of Potter's. "You just have to blow," he said in The South Bank Show (ITV), using a jazz image for his unsystematic method. Gerald Fox's film, shot over lunch and accompanied by far too much chummy joshing about Bragg's drinking habits, was either screamingly incestuous or thoughtfully self-referential, according to your taste. I tentatively came down on the side of the latter, persuaded by useful echoes between drama and interview (and between Finney and Potter, grammar school boys who made it into the Soho aristocracy), but it was a damned tight call.

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

    Tribal gathering

    Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

    Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
    Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

    Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

    No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
    How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

    Power of the geek Gods

    Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
    What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

    Perfect match

    What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
    10 best trays

    Get carried away with 10 best trays

    Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
    Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

    Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

    Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
    Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

    Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

    He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high