FINDING THE FUNNY
A new series finds the chuckles as well as the challenges in raising a child with learning disabilities
David Tennant on his gripping new drama about the humour and heartache of raising a child with a learning disability
There She Goes opens with the harsh reality of taking a child with a learning disability to a nearby park. First, she runs across the road manically. Then she lies down and has a tantrum on the pavement and refuses to move. Then she bites her father.
In other hands this series could have been a rather grim look at the difficulties of raising a child who isn’t like other kids. But written by actor and comedian Shaun Pye, and based on his own experiences, There She Goes is a bittersweet comedy which will provoke tears and laughs in equal measure and should appeal to fans of BBC1 family sitcom Outnumbered.
‘I was really affected by the script when I first read it,’ says David Tennant, who plays Simon, the father of the family. ‘I’d never read anything so honest. I’d never seen anything that had this raw perspective of this particular life with a daughter who has these challenges. It was impossible to look away from. I was so touched by it and thought it was a story that needed to be told.’
The five- part BBC4 series has been a labour of love for Shaun, a comedy writer for Have I Got News For You, former actor on Extras, and creator of shows The Rack Pack and the comedy Monkey Dust, who’s taken inspiration from his own family. ‘I have a daughter who has an undiagnosed chromosomal disorder and severe learning difficulties,’ he says. ‘Over the years I’ve posted various things on Facebook, little stories, various things that made us laugh or infuriated us. People kept saying to us that this was a perspective that people don’t normally talk about. They found it interesting because it was funny at times and sad at others, and they encouraged me to write about it.’
The series runs over two timelines; the first is 2006 when a baby girl is born to Simon and Emily, played by W1A star Jessica Hynes, who already have a son, Ben (Edan Hayhurst). In the womb the baby has an abnormally small head, and when she is born Emily is certain that there is something wrong with her daughter, but doctors are unable to find what it is.
This immediately leads to problems in the marriage as Simon takes solace in going out drinking with colleagues while an increasingly haggard Emily is forced to deal with a sick baby on her own.
When we’re taken forward to 2015 life is more settled for the family, but they are still struggling to deal with the demands of Rosie, a gorgeous and loving girl now aged nine, who doesn’t talk and has the mental age of someone much younger.
Shaun’s family had veto over all the episodes and the first scripts were changed by his wife (who has asked not to be named), because the original saw the father character in too positive a light. ‘I wrote an initial version and then consulted with my wife and it is hilarious to look at the differences between the two versions,’ he says. ‘The way I’d written it, there was this poor bloke who had a really tough life with his learningdisabled daughter and his wife was always nagging him. When my wife read it, she said, “You’re having a laugh.” So in the end Simon does not come out of it well, but people who know me would say that’s who I was.
‘I wanted to paint a truthful picture. People don’t always speak glowingly about their children. They don’t use politically correct language. Everything in the show is true.
‘Some people might question whether comedy was the right way to write about this but there have been lots of sitcoms about children drawing on the writers’ experiences and I thought my
‘I’d never read a story so honest. It needed to be told’ DAVID TENNANT
daughter shouldn’t be excluded. She is amazing and funny and infuriating and annoying and lovely in her own unique way. So why treat her as a special case and wrap her in cotton wool?
‘It is a specific story about a specific family – my family – and it doesn’t have to say anything great about anyone else’s experience. No one wants to see half an hour of abject misery. My daughter is wonderful and I want to celebrate her life, and that includes the tough bits.’
With David and Jessica, the show already had a top-notch cast but the biggest challenge was finding an actress to play the part of Rosie.
‘We had an extensive auditioning process that included disabled and non-disabled young actors but after consultation with a lot of professionals, we decided it was too big a thing to ask a young learning- disabled actor to attempt,’ says Shaun. ‘The days on set are very long and there were things we had to ask them to do – like running across a road ten times – that could lead to confusion for them in their own life afterwards.
‘As it is, my daughter has something that is incredibly rare, there are billions of genetic disorders and we don’t know which one she has specifically, but what is almost certain is that there are just a handful of people in the world who have the same condition as her. So whoever was playing her would always have different physical and emotional challenges.’
The role went to young Miley Locke, aged nine, who has already had roles in Grantchester and The Royals. ‘She was extraordinary,’ says David. ‘We were all in awe of how she could disappear into character and then come out again. We were very lucky to find her.’
David, who has four children with his actress wife Georgia Moffett, says starring in the comedy drama, which was filmed over a month, helped him gain a different perspective on parenthood. ‘It is Shaun’s life and that is the great strength of it,’ he says. ‘It is not trying to be an objective perspective of what life in a situation like that is, it’s what happened to Shaun.
‘But at the same time, it allows you to question how you would be in that situation. It asks you questions about yourself if you’re a parent – it opens a door into a human experience. I don’t want to sound pretentious but good art should help you see the world as others see it, and help you have a different perspective on life. This is family life from a different perspective to one that has been shown on television, and that makes it important.’
There She Goes, Tuesday, 10pm, BBC4.
Miley Locke as Rosie, with David Tennant, Edan Hayhurst and Jessica Hynes as her beleaguered family
Rosie wreaking havoc