Playwright Laura Lomas’ new drama for Channel 4’s ‘Coming up’ season excels

Coming Up is the Channel 4 talent scheme where new writers and directors have the opportunity to make an original film with a guaranteed network broadcast. The first episode in the 6th series saw an extremely strong start, written, directed and starring women.

‘Rough skin’ tells the story of Kelly, who has spent 9 months in prison, as she struggles to adjust to life outside, and rebuild her life.

Written by playwright Laura Lomas, who has worked with Paines Plough and the Royal Court, the piece focused around mother-daughter relationships, set against an eerily empty industrial town.

Lorraine Ashbourne is the mother, and daughter Kelly is played by Vicky McClure – best known for her role in Shane Meadows’ ‘This is England’. From her first nervous conversation when Kelly is released, obsessing over some comfy new pyjamas to her mistrust and worry about what her daughter might be up to, to the eventual revelation, Lorraine Ashbourne plays a mother who has struggled to control herself and her daughter.

Vicky McClure as Kelly seems to be cornering the market in vulnerable young women, as she struggles with an unhelpful housing officer, or tries to give Sean, her druggie ex-boyfriend, a second chance, which she soon realizes is a mistake. Kelly’s ex-boyfriend and seemingly the reason she was in prison, Sean, played by Marc Ryan-Jordan unravels by the minute, and her mother’s distrust of him appears to have been warranted.

Director Cathy Brady tells the story with subtlety.  Kelly’s surprising secret is not revealed until the last few scenes, though numerous red herrings and hints add to the general unease of the piece – Kelly plays with a young girl in the park and you suddenly start to put the pieces together.  You feel there is a real history between mother and daughter, though you’re never sure quite who’s done what. The music is haunting and offsets the bleak drizzly empty landscape.

A recurring motif is water and its regenerative ability. Kelly cleanses herself in the bath, where we first get a hint as to what her secret may be, and the first hint of resolution with her mother occurs in the bathroom. In the final scene as Kelly and her mother watch the rain from the window, there is also hope for a happy resolution.

One of the comments people often make about female writers is that they focus on the domestic. Well, this story could be defined as domestic, but actually has a very similar tone to Shane Meadows’ work, or Andrea Arnold’s film ‘Fish Tank’. It would be easy to imagine this film with a male protagonist – but I think telling the story from a female point of view actually elevates it from the mundane. This is a story about mothers’ relationships with their daughters, and is a topic rarely shown with such subtlety. I am trying to think of the current portrayals on TV of mothers and daughters, and am struggling to think of any apart from lightly drawn stereotypes in comedies and soaps.

Laura Lomas’ mother and daughter’s relationship is real and this is a testament to a lightness of touch in the writing as well as superb casting.  The only shame is that it is on as late as it is. This showcase for new talent deserves a more mainstream slot.

Coming Up is shown on Mondays, Channel 4 at 11.05pm

About 17Percent

A campaign to get more plays by women playwrights onto UK stages.
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