written by Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith | directed by David Kerr
It's fair to say the most popular episode of Psychoville (certainly the most inventive) was episode 4 of series 1, which appeared to be filmed in one long continuous take (although actually there was one surreptitious cut). It was a masterpiece of performance and choreography for both the actors and film crew, inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's similar gimmick in his movie Rope. The response to that episode was so favourable that Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith have come up with another novelty half-hour for their new series Inside No9, as "A Quiet Night In" unfurled without (much) dialogue.
I was expecting this to be a "silent movie", but of course there's plenty of sound and it's instrumental in creating a pervasive mood. The story finds an affluent older gentleman called Gerald (Denis Lawson) relaxing in his modernist home, which contains various precious antiquities—but in particular an expensive piece of modern art. Little does Gerald know, while arguing with his glamorous younger wife Sabrina (Oona Chaplin, granddaughter of Charlie), that two inept cat burglars, Eddie (Steve Pemberton) and Ray (Reece Shearmsith), have stealthily invaded their home, in an attempt to steal the valuable painting.
I don't really want to say more than that, because this instalment of Inside No9 demands to be seen for yourself. Suffice to say, if you like physical comedy and the joy of seeing two writer-performers bringing a difficult artistic vision to life, "A Quiet Night In" will be infinitely rewarding. There may have been occasional moments when the lack of dialogue felt unreasonable (like when Joyce Veheary's housekeeper failed to raise an alarm by immediately screaming), but it was otherwise a surprisingly plausible near-silent experience. The fact the married couple weren't on speaking terms... the requirement of silence from two professional burglars (communicating through mime)... and the hilarious involvement of a deaf-and-dumb salesman... it all made perfect sense and sustained the high-concept idea perfectly.
All the actors were excellent, but naturally Shearsmith and Pemberton stood out as the cartoonish thieves; dressed entirely in black, with their pale faces appearing almost like attached masks. Their comedy dynamic was a little obvious (Ray's the lean, clever one; Eddie's the rotund idiot), but they bounced off each other's performance with great subtlety—as you'd expect given how long they've worked together.
The script's farce worked like clockwork, delivering an almost theatrical experience, all building to another delicious twist I didn't see coming. I know it's only February and Inside No9's only aired two episodes, but it might just become one of my favourite things this year. Please watch it.