The Audience: TV review - how the herd instinct got to the heart of a troubled woman's dilemma


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The Independent Culture

Before there was sex in a box, there was The Audience (More4), another high-concept show for the nosy, in which an individual with a dilemma invites a jury of strangers into his/her life.

These strangers follow the individual around for a week, asking questions, until finally they're ready to deliver a verdict. It's a gimmicky set-up which necessitates some contrived scenes – who goes for a quiet stroll in the park with 50 friends in tow? – but this second series suggests that there's also some real value to the hive mind's insights.

This week's volunteer was 42-year-old Jane Mason, a single woman who has wanted to adopt a child for more than a decade, but still isn't sure that she should. Complicating Jane's dilemma is Klippel-Feil syndrome, a rare degenerative disorder which restricts the movement of her neck and may shorten her life-span.

Sometimes it seems that people with disabilities are only allowed on telly if disability is the topic and they're willing to address the prejudices of the able-bodied with saintly patience, so Jane's prickliness with her audience made for a refreshing change. Clearly she felt under no pressure to put anyone at ease or represent anyone except herself. Good for her. If Jane was initially terse, she soon warmed up, mischievously dropping bombshells which put her situation in a new light.

It turned out that Klippel-Feil wasn't at the heart of Jane's dilemma, anyway. She had many of the same anxieties that any older single person wanting to start a family would face, and several members of the audience could relate. "I think the maternal instinct is the strongest instinct known to the human race," mused Jo, the photographer. "Her life experiences have been so different to all of ours; it's so important she can pass them on to other people," concluded Paul the plumber.

And then there were audience members like Tommy the hairdresser, who were clearly included just to make up the numbers. No special offence meant to Tommy, but I'm pretty sure I've also seen his face pop up on Channel 4's First Dates. He must be doing the rounds.