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24 September 2014

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Serial Killers

By Andy Potter (Photos: Keith Pattison)
Serial Killers strips back the behind-the-scenes goings on of an Australian soap opera. Our reviewer Andy Potter thinks it's a scenario we could all enjoy.

Serial Killers
The Australian soap's writers are taken hostage!

If you think you've got the biggest television set in your neighbourhood, then I think you ought to take a look at the new set they've just installed at the Derby Playhouse. 

Covering the width and height of the stage, their "Fushi" is the sort of thing that you'd expect to be using to watch the grand vistas of a documentary about how the Grand Canyon was created. 

Here, however, it's being used to witness scenes from prime time Australian soap Heart of Hearts.

If you've never heard of it, then don't worry because it doesn't really exist, but in author James Griffin's Serial Killers, we get an insight into what it's like to work on television soap. 

Heart of Hearts is the monster that relies on an endless supply of storylines, and the measures producers and their teams go to in order to reach and maintain that televisual Holy Grail, ratings.

Situated in front of our enormous screen we witness the writers struggling to devise ways of killing off one of the serial's longest running characters, Dr Robert Gilligan, who we first see heading off into the smoke-filled corridor of St Celia's hospital to save a patient. 

'Simone', 'Alan', 'Elaine' and 'Matt'
'Simone', 'Alan', 'Elaine' and 'Matt'

The trouble is that the show's producer, Sally (Julianne White) hasn't told the actor in question, Andrew Lomas (Ben Steel), that he's being axed.  Only when it's official that the third-rate actor is off can the team of Simone (Kate Atkinson), Pauline (Rebecca Hobbs), Alan (Mark Little), Elaine (Andrea McEwan) and Matt (Craig Parker) come up with a suitable swan-song.

Sitting, lying and strolling around their 'Last Supper' table, it becomes apparent that truth is stranger than fiction as an endless procession of failed relationships and nepotism among the group is revealed. 

It's also highlighted how personal stories are re-invented into fictional plots, and when Lomas enters this forbidden room to talk about his character's development ("I think he ought to drive a jeep!"), his fate is sealed.

Struck down with serious burns and his senses leaving him one by one, a concrete mixer crashes into the hospital and deposits its contents over our dying doctor!  Lomas isn't going to take his death lying down and, with his dream of staying in the soap as a career ("like Ken Barlow in Coronation Street") evaporating, takes the writers hostage!

Anyone aux fais with the workings of television drama, or who has sat through hour after hour of Australian soap, will notice just how close to reality this play is. 

In fact, most of the real life cast have appeared in one of them, so there's a certain authenticity to the piece.  Mark Little (sometime Joe Mangle in Neighbours) as the wise cracking Alan, resplendent in a Crowded House tour t-shirt, is extraordinarily good, and certainly comes into his own during the much faster-paced second half, when he's required to turn things around and whisk away a lot of the joviality.

The whole cast also double up as the cast of the soap, and credit must go to Helen Lloyd who, as the producer of the video inserts, really captures the feel, mood and look of these cheap Australian imports.  It's frightening to think that more than one person commented after the show that they would like to see more episodes of this non-existent drama – or even appear in it!

Score: 4 out of 5

Not to everyone’s taste (the language and dark tone of the piece would possibly strike home to a younger audience) Serial Killers does have a lot going for it.  Some editing of the first half to shorten the running time and a bigger ending wouldn't go amiss, but for anyone who remembers Sons and Daughters, Young Doctors and Prisoner Cell Block H, it's a 'must see'.

last updated: 08/11/05
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Jenni Haase
Would love to see Craig Parker act in this! Live in Wisconsin though--can only read about it.

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