Thursday, 6 March 2014

INSIDE NO. 9, 1.5 – 'The Understudy'

Thursday, 6 March 2014

written by Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith | directed by David Kerr

The penultimate episode of Inside No9 felt like a companion piece to "Tom & Gerri" (only with Reece Shearsmith's character suffering a cruel ascendancy, instead of a miserable descent). "The Understudy" was set behind the doors of dressing room number 9, belonging to boorish West End actor Tony Warner (Steve Pemberton), currently the lead in the Duke of Cambridge Theatre's production of Macbeth. Tony's a loud, obnoxious, egotistical, selfish man whose talent casts a big shadow; although his bravado tends to mostly eclipse submissive understudy Jim (Shearsmith)...

This was another strong episode that was even more confined than usual. The way the thirty-minutes was separated into five "acts" also gave it added claustrophobia somehow. What was most memorable is how meta the story was; as Shakespeare's infamous play wormed its way into the the lives of the cast and crew. In particular, there was understudy Jim's wife Laura (Lyndsey Marshal) as a "Lady Macbeth" figure, encouraging her meek husband into taking a stand against the overbearing Tony, to seize a chance to replace him when he became dangerously drunk on-stage. Throw in Jim having visions of expanding "spots" of blood on a carpet, and a dagger clutched by bloodied hands (which we learn were sinister premonitions of his wife's eventual suicide), and the parallels were all too clear.

It perhaps wasn't the funniest of instalments, but I didn't mind too much. There were still some hilarious lines sprinkled about. (My favourite involved Julia Davis' lesbian company director Felicity, asking a bleary-eyed Tony "how many fingers have I got up?" and drawing the response "don't talk to me like that, I'm not your girlfriend!") But this half-hour was less about laughs and more about the ruination of lives at the hand of naked ambition and selfishness, with likeable Jim transforming into an equally monstrous version of Tony after his predecessor's blossoming career was ended through paralysis.

Similarly to a few other episodes this series, I couldn't help feeling the story might have been improved with an extra fifteen minutes (to flesh-out the changes to everyone's lives each time there was a time-jump, in this week's case)... but otherwise, "The Understudy" was very entertaining stuff, complete with a fun twist concerning the real manipulator of events.

It's such a pity the curtain falls on Inside No9 next week...

5 February 2014 | BBC2