Shakespeare on a micro-budget

Revelations became an instant camp classic. James Rampton charts its meteoric success, while Gerard Gilbert predicts that minimalist drama is the shape of things to come
Click to follow
i went on holiday the other week, and the only thing I bothered to tape was an obscure half-hour regional ITV drama that goes out late on a Thursday evening. There are no two ways about it: Revelations is the most enjoyable programme on telly.

The charm lies in its cheap-and-cheerfulness. It's a triumph over adversity - scripts, sets and casting are done on a budget that makes a shoestring look expensive; the approximately £30,000 each episode is reported to cost could finance about three per cent of an Inspector Morse. It's throwback drama: not since Howard's Way, the boating soap in which Kate O'Mara braved gale-force winds in the skimpiest costumes, has a programme shrieked "cult classic'' so loudly. Like vodka in Russia, tapes of old Revelations are the currency of a thriving black market.

Only half a dozen characters feature regularly. Budget-munching crowd scenes are avoided at all costs; a disco sequence once boasted a couple of weary boppers in the background, but nothing more. One week, the children suggested a party to celebrate their parents' anniversary - and you just knew there would be no guests. The producers really pushed the boat out for a dramatic sermon the other week: the congregation must have contained, ooh, at least three dozen extras.

The budget only stretches to one regular location: the bishop's residence, a country pile whose every nook and cranny has been filmed dry. In apparent desperation the other week, the director resorted to shooting a character holding a conversation with his friend down a manhole. I've looked hard, but sorry to report, I've never seen the sets wobbling.

The acting is equally transfixing. It's not that it is laughably poor (although Charley "drunk" was something to behold); the lead, Paul Shelley, is appearing in Arcadia in the West End, and Lucy Robinson is a fine actress (I know, because I played her father in a school play). It's just that with four episodes being filmed a week, there is obviously precious little time for more than one take.

If you haven't yet been hooked by Revelations, hurry - there are only two episodes to go in this series. Here's what you missed.

Devised by Russell T Davies and Antony Wood (give those men a Bafta), the series is a co-production between Central, Carlton and Granada. It could be characterised as one long procession of vicars and tarts. Edward (Shelley), a bishop in the shires, has an affair - the latest in a Stephen Norris-esque string of them - with his secretary, Anne (Margo Gunn). She becomes pregnant and threatens to expose him to the tabloids when he refuses to leave his wife. In a fit of rage, he pushes her downstairs to her death. His ambitious wife, Jessica (Judy Loe, a woman whose immaculately set helmet of black hair is not even ruffled by attempted rape), urges him to hush it up and push for promotion. He now spends most episodes with his head in his hands as if to say, "What have I done?". With its echoes of Macbeth, it's little short of Shakespeare on a micro-budget.

The children take after their parents in dissoluteness. The son, the distinctly unangelic Gabriel (Stephen Mapes), is a would-be painter who specialises in a tortured-artist furrowed brow. He has had a gay affair with his childhood friend Thomas (Grant Thatcher) and is a recovering heroin addict - much to the horror of his new wife Rachel (Robinson). And the daughters - the brattish Lenny (Nina Marc) and the super-brattish Charley (Emma Roberts) - have about as much luck with men as a blow-up dolly. Lenny has an on-off relationship with the hooray from hell, Mark (Matthew Radford), and Charley has a fiery liaison with Thomas, finding out too late that in fact he dances at the other end of the ballroom.

The great news is that an increasingly vociferous media campaign has been heeded and a second series of scripts has been commissioned. In the meantime, a friend is throwing a party to mark the end of the first run. Vicars and tarts, naturally.

Last two episodes of `Revelations': Thur 10.40pm ITV, 30 Mar, 6 Apr