Ordinary Lies: Tuesday, BBC One
Arena: The Roundhouse – The People’s Palace: Sunday, BBC Four
Now in its second year, the excellent anthology series Ordinary Lies succeeds in its mission to covertly smuggle standalone dramas into the primetime schedules.
Although linked by overlapping storylines and a shared workplace setting – this year it’s a Welsh call centre and warehouse – each episode focuses on a different character. Much like The Street by Jimmy McGovern, it’s essentially a series of self-contained plays.
Writer Danny Brocklehurst, who’s worked with McGovern, has inherited the master’s cruel penchant for plunging his characters into painful moral dilemmas. They’re like a pair of vengeful Gods.
The overarching theme of the series is the costly repercussion of deceit. People lie for many reasons, and not always with the intent of deliberately hurting others. Each week the tension arises from when and how the protagonist will be found out.
Brocklehurst’s latest unfortunate plaything was Holly, the company’s highly capable PA. Bored of life and nursing a broken heart, Holly had lost all confidence in herself. Her fragile ego took a further battering when she accidentally discovered a note in which her boyfriend apparently listed his problems with her (the eventual twist that this was in fact a list of his own perceived failings was hardly surprising).
This spurred her into inevitably doomed action. Using social media, she decided to track down the ex who shattered her sense of security, in a desperate bid to reinvent herself. This involved the theft of glamorous images from her FaceBook friends, and an elaborate ruse in which she posed as the successful manager of her own company. Suitably impressed, he swiftly ended up in bed with her.
However, it turned out he wasn’t being truthful either. Not only had he cheated on her years ago, he’d also fathered a child with his mistress. This quagmire of deceit was compounded by the revelation that, when he left her, Holly was pregnant with his child.
The scene in which this information tumbled forth was suitably gut-wrenching; hitherto best known for comedy roles in the likes of Fresh Meat, Kimberley Nixon as Holly more than proved her worth as a dramatic actress.
This was a sad, cautionary study of the devastating effects of heartbreak and the ways in which social media can make users feel inferior by presenting a distortedly rosy image of other people’s lives. It’s all too easy to present a manufactured front to the world from behind your laptop.
And yet Brocklehurst couldn’t quite bring himself to destroy Holly completely. The episode appeared to be a lesson in the futility of trying to rekindle a dead romance, but she received a glimmer of hope in the final scene.
Even vengeful Gods have their moments of leniency.
Britain’s most beloved Victorian engine shed was the star of Arena: The Roundhouse – The People’s Palace, which paid tribute to a legendary London venue steeped in weird-beard history.
Once the home of experimental theatre and underground ‘60s happenings from the likes of Pink Floyd, today The Roundhouse is basically a corporate music and arts centre. So no wonder this typically well-researched documentary focused on its reign as a radical portal for punks, hippies, beat poets, black power activists and, err, Barbara Windsor.
Call me a romantic old dreamer if you will, brothers and sisters, but contemporary culture is nowhere near as interesting as it was in the wild heyday of The Roundhouse. The party is over.