Fair City

Article excerpt

There was a sense of a yawning gap in the picture of Irish society emerging from RTE drama ever since the demise of Tolka Row (1964-1968). For the next two decades, there was talk of the need for a new urban serial. When RTE announced Fair City in its autumn schedule for 1989, it was at the centre of anticipation. Much effort and major investment had gone into its development.

The opening sequence evoked Dublin with an aerial overview of the city. The pilot opened with a succession of breakfast scenes in a number of houses with a running thread of various characters commenting on the story on the front of the Northside People featuring the first anniversary of the local community enterprise centre. As the day went on, these characters all converged on this centre. In between there was much happening: people coming and going, phone messages being conveyed, characters gossiping about other characters, rows about relationships and money. There were a flurry of reviews and a vox-pop on the streets of Dublin. The consensus was that it had got off to a frenetic start, that it was not clear who was doing what and why, but that it should be given a chance.

The pace slowed somewhat, sometimes to the point of the pedestrian. All sorts of things were tried, but the audience fell and the critics became harsher. Inside RTE, there was consternation, but also commitment to do whatever it took to fix it. Sometimes it seemed that the desperation to make it better only made it worse. It was trying too hard to be something without being too sure what that something was. It was too bitty. There was too much happening for too little reason. It was too imitative. It was looking too much to Eastenders and not enough to contemporary Dublin.

By the end of first series, the centre was burnt down and characters had to find alternative employment. The emphasis was more on personal relationships and less on community activities. All through the series there has been much recycling of soap opera cliches: much pairing and triangulating, long lost parents and children, rape, abortion, kidnapping, sexual harassment, blackmail, murder. There were comings and goings, births and deaths, windfalls and debts, rows and reconciliations, but there often seemed to be insufficient reason why. It has often seemed to be soap opera by the numbers.

Although most characters were supposed to be of working class origins, not many were wage labourers and they worked primarily in the local businesses. It often seemed that Carrigstown was more like a 1950s rural village than a 1990s city. Everybody lived in each other's pockets and knew each other's business. This was soap opera convention, but it was not urban life.

As the years moved on, Fair City evolved. By 2001 it was going out 4 nights a week. The new opening sequence in 2005 is a stylish evocation of the tiger city, showing the Luas, the boardwalks, the cafe bars, but also the old flats, terraced houses and fruit stalls. It is the look of a city that has come up in the world, as indeed it has. It shows too in the characters. They are less downtrodden, but not fabulously rich, reflecting the rising tide lifting many (if not all) boats.

It has come to have more of a feel of the city about it with characters moving through the larger city, although there are still too many of them who own and work in local businesses. Suzanne and Sarah went to university. Location shooting opens out into shopping centres, night clubs, city streets. There is also more of a sense of the wider world in the way the script refers outwards even when the cameras don't go there, although it is intermittent and it varies with scriptwriters. Sergei, a Russian immigrant, even gave the locals a lecture on perestroika. Suzanne arrived back home from Borneo to scrutinise Carrigstowners on their use of fair trade products. Kay and Charlie, like much of the rest of the world, read and discussed The Da Vinci Code. …