Crime of their lives

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NEW Zealand crime com­e­dy­drama Ou­tra­geous For­tune has more in com­mon with Packed to the Rafters than Un­der­belly.

Ac­tor Robyn Malcolm heads the bawdy se­ries as crime-fam­ily ma­tri­arch Ch­eryl West, who de­cides that, af­ter a proud tra­di­tion of thiev­ery and lar­ceny, it’s time for her brood to go straight.

That doesn’t please ca­reer­crim­i­nal hus­band Wolf (Grant Bowler) and is a mighty chal­lenge for twins Van and Jethro (Antony Starr), ladette daugh­ters Pas­calle and Loretta (Siob­han Mar­shall and An­to­nia Preb­ble) and live-at-home grandpa Ted (Frank Whit­ten).

It’s a set-up that, stripped of its crime back­drop, matches Rafters’ ‘‘gen­er­a­tions liv­ing un­der the same roof’’ con­cept — with lots of added swear­ing, of course.

Malcolm says the show, in its fourth sea­son, is more about fam­i­lies than it is about crime.

‘‘The crim­i­nal na­ture of Ou­tra­geous For­tune is more of a back­drop,’’ she says. ‘‘It’s es­sen­tially a fam­ily drama/com­edy and we have a re­la­tion­ship with crime that is com­par­a­tively lighter.

‘‘The won­der­ful thing is that if you scratch the sur­face of any fam­ily, you’ll find the most com­plex dra­mas go­ing on. Every­one knows each other well so the dra­mas are much more in­tense.

‘‘Fam­i­lies are where the real mad­ness is. The West fam­ily is, I don’t think, that ex­treme.

‘‘I can’t tell you the num­ber of con­ver­sa­tions I’ve had with peo­ple re­cently when I’ve asked ‘How was Christ­mas with your fam­ily?’ and their an­swer was ‘The usual dys­func­tion’.’’

Rafters con­cen­trates on An­glo, mid­dle-class sub­ur­ban Syd­ney, whereas Ou­tra­geous For­tune, as the fam­ily’s name sug­gests, seeks to put peo­ple who live in the west­ern sub­urbs un­der the mi­cro­scope. It’s some­thing that Malcolm, who grew up in a small town in south­west New Zealand, says any­one can re­late to.

‘‘The whole ‘westie’ thing is West Auck­land, but what it rep­re­sents, I think, is white work­ing­class Ki­wis, and they’re ev­ery­where — as in any coun­try. I grew up around those peo­ple.’’ Ou­tra­geous For­tune, MA15+ Arena, Sun­day, 7.30pm Kiwi crime com­edy-drama Du­ra­tion: 30 min­utes

Malcolm, who has won awards for her por­trayal of Ch­eryl West (think Julie Rafter crossed with Roberta Wil­liams), says she re­ceived clear char­ac­ter notes from the Ou­tra­geous For­tune pro­duc­ers be­fore the first se­ries.

‘‘The in­struc­tion I got was ‘Don’t smile’,’’ she says. ‘‘It’s such a mid­dle-class thing to smile and in­gra­ti­ate your­self with peo­ple. The Wests aren’t in­ter­ested in whether peo­ple like them or not. There’s a di­rect­ness — she looks peo­ple in the eye and she’s not fright­ened of con­flict.

‘‘There’s that whole no­tion of the more you feel, the less you show, which I think is a very an­tipodean thing. We’re not enor­mously ex­pres­sive peo­ple.

‘‘I think Ch­eryl’s grown tougher and a bit harder over the years be­cause the bat­tles she’s been fight­ing have been so in­tense. There’s a world-weari­ness to her now. There was an in­no­cence to Ch­eryl early on, de­spite the fact that she was mar­ried to a ca­reer crim­i­nal with four kids.

‘‘Be­cause of that fact, she was able to give over a lot of re­spon­si­bil­ity to Wolf. She was the lit­tle woman at home and the fact that she has fought not to be, that has given her a lot of free­dom, but in an­other way has made her less tol­er­ant.

‘‘So she’s hard­ened up, which is kind of sad but prob­a­bly true.

‘‘If Ou­tra­geous For­tune were to fin­ish, I would love it to fin­ish with Ch­eryl hang­ing out the wash­ing in her high heels, still in a dilemma about some­thing. Be­cause that’s how life is — there’s never a point where there’s a happy end­ing.’’

Bawdy:

Robyn Malcolm stars as Ch­eryl West in Ou­tra­geous For­tune.

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