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Sunday, 26 August 2012

A Touch of Cloth Preview: Mocking at its finest!

It’s the second week of July and I’m strolling across London to BAFTA headquarters for the screening of Sky’s latest comedy A Touch of Cloth. I say strolling, but in reality I’m being pelted by vicious and persistent raindrops whilst consulting a soggy map every two seconds in fear of walking straight past the place. When I do arrive I go through the big double doors, announce my arrival at the front desk and head up in the lift to the bar and screening room.

The bar at BAFTA is a daunting place. The place is already packed and I can only see the bar itself by averting my eyes from the mass of people and focusing on a man serving cocktails in the centre of the room.  Everyone is sat in deep conversation; the noise of TV chatter seems to bounce of the walls. I must have looked like a lost child who had stumbled across the bar on the way to bed. I decide the best thing to do is to people watch. I’m not sure I’ve people watched in such a high profile place before. I’m a people watching pro in supermarkets and shopping centres but here I’m not sure where to start.

I know that the show’s writer (Charlie Brooker) and stars Surrane Jones and John Hannah are going to be taking questions from the audience post screening. At that moment I notice the actor Julian Rhind-Tutt has sneaked past me and is chatting to people near the bar. I’m a big fan of Julian’s from his stint on Channel 4’s Green Wing. A few seconds go by and I realize I’ve been staring at Julian. This isn’t people watching this is virtually stalking! Once I realize my mistake I try desperately to focus on someone else in the room. I’m amazed he couldn’t feel my eyes burning into his face but I think the capacity of the room worked in my favour. 

I then spot John Hannah (sporting a beard that we later learn he has grown in preparation for the second installment of Cloth) and the bigwigs from Sky. I resist the urge to go forward and chat to any of them, preferring instead to observe them from a distance in much the same way David Attenborough observes the fascinating creatures of the planet.

A few moments later the huge crowds are whisked into the screening room for the showing of A Touch of Cloth. With all my ranting you may have forgotten that is what this review is for. I knew quite a bit about the series before taking my seat on that soggy July evening. I knew it was a spoof on any TV crime drama you’d care to mention. I knew it starred John Hannah (without beard) and Surrane Jones as a crime fighting duo and I knew it had been co-written by Charlie Brooker. I’d also seen a few snippets online that made me quite interested and heard that Sky was very proud of it. They’re also very proud of Mount Pleasant so I was cautious. 

The first thing that struck me about A Touch of Cloth was how much it immediately felt like a crime drama. The opening scene, where an elderly man is harassed and laughed at by gang of hooded youths wouldn’t seem out of place in an episode of Scott & Bailey or Prime Suspect. Brooker will later reveal that he and co-writer Daniel Maier sat down to every crime drama you could think of to get the tone of the piece right. Spoofs only work if they are true to what they’re spoofing and Cloth does it masterfully. 

Jack Cloth is your stereotypical tortured soul. His wife has died, he’s hit the bottle and looking disheveled when we meet him for the first time. Surrane Jones plays  police partner Anne Oldman. A joke that for me got old quickly. “I’m Anne Oldman”. Get it? The audience and I howl with laughter the first time the joke is played but I find myself less enamored with the joke as it continues to pop up. The fantastic title sequence which features Cloth from different angles did make me laugh and received an immediate warm reception from those around me. The attention to detail here can’t be faulted. Hannah and Jones play their parts with such seriousness and conviction you sometimes forget this is a spoof. There’s no doubting that the humour here is daft, immature and silly but it’s perfect! Julian Rhind-Tutt is wonderful as Cloth’s mysterious boss. Every sentence is finished with so many Cloth puns it’s a wonder Brooker and Maier have any left to shoehorn into the script for Cloth 2 and 3! 

The interesting thing about A Touch of Cloth was I found myself engrossed in the actual mystery element of the plot. Perhaps I’ve been groomed by too many crime series but I was fascinated by whodunit. The gag level in this is high. Every aspect of the crime genre is picked apart and lovingly mocked. There’s a disturbing scene in a mortuary that got creepier by the second and a chase scene that went on a bit too long for my taste. We later learn that creepy mortuary scene was taken from equally long winded and maudlin scene from Danish crime series The Killing. If I were to pick fault I must honest and tell you I soon grew tiered of the Anne Oldman jokes and of the continual plays on the word “cloth” At points the silliness became exhausting and I started to fidget in my seat. I remembered at this point why I stopped going to the cinema. If you get bored, need the loo or just fancy a stretch of the legs you can’t pause what you’re watching. Sky has decided to split the two hour comedy into two parts which, having seen it is a really smart move. After an hour with Cloth you know what to expect and I found it dragged in the middle. Don’t get me wrong I was still laughing, still interested in the plot and still enjoying the straight laced Hannah and Jones but I think splitting into two halves is a good move. 

Sure the humour is immature but even in its slower moments I found impossible to dislike Cloth. It’s mickey taking at its finest. Brooker and Maier aren’t mocking their subject they are affectionately poking fun at it. There are scenes here that seem plucked straight out of a real crime series. In the Q&A Brooker reveals how similar the genres are. They always have shouty interview scenes or lead characters with messy and ridiculous personal lives. As a viewer you could tell Brooker and Maier know the genre inside out.

As the whodunit draws to a close the payoff is exciting and unexpected. Even then the joke rate doesn’t diminish. There are more gags here than in an entire series of recent BBC comedies. The point of this review isn’t to spoil the show for you but whet your appetites. A Touch of Cloth is brilliant and a masterclass in spoofing. There is so much I could tell you but I think it’s fairer to have you discover it on your own. Sky has already announced Cloth 2 and 3 and I for one can't wait!

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