FIND­ING THE FUNNY

A new se­ries finds the chuck­les as well as the chal­lenges in rais­ing a child with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties

Daily Mail Weekend Magazine - - NEWS - Nicole Lam­pert

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

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