Over the course of her career, Kay Mellor has often written dramas that focus on a group of disparate characters who are linked by a common bond. From slimming club members in Fat Friends to female footballers in Playing the Field; Mellor’s dramas have often followed a similar formula. That formula is duplicated once again in In the Club, which follows the trials and tribulations of six different women who are all experiencing pregnancy at the same time.
What I noticed about In the Club was that Mellor has really struggled to conceive six different stories surrounding the same subject. It also appears that she’s tried to be terribly modern by introducing a lesbian couple who have both used the same man to get pregnant. Fifteen years ago Susie had a son with Neil and now her partner Kim is doing the same. However, as is always the way with Mellor’s dramas, the relationship is already complicated with son Jude refusing to accept Kim as a parental figure. Matters are further confused when Neil and Kim kiss, a plot development that I for one wasn’t a fan of. Age gap romances are also tackled in In the Club with a plot focusing on middle-aged businesswoman Roanna and her artist toyboy Simon. It’s established from the start that Roanna already has two older children and is currently going through a bitter divorce with a husband she never really loved. Even though this is a story that I felt may have had a bit of weight to it I found that it was sloppily handled throughout. Another issue with dealing with six interlinking stories is that some feel lost in the shuffle and that was definitely the case here. I particularly felt that I didn’t get to know newlyweds Jasmin and Dev whose story was confined to a handful of scenes. Similarly brief was our introduction to midwife and babycraft group leader Vicky who is currently going through her first pregnancy.
Conversely I felt too much time was devoted to the story of Diane and husband Rick who are finally having a baby of their own after years of trying. In telling the story of Diane and Rick, Mellor has used another topical issue namely that of the recession. It’s revealed that Rick had recently been made redundant and had been unsuccessful in finding new employment ever since. However, after a number of months on the unemployment line, he has yet to tell Diane who is ecstatic to be finally having a baby of her own. Despite having two adoptive children, Diane and Rick’s latest arrival is being seen as a miracle and so she’s even more surprised to learn she’s having twins. However Rick’s financial woes are finally exposed when Diane’s car is towed away whilst she’s having her first scan. Up to this point, Rick and Diane’s situation felt realistic as I felt it was easy to believe in both their financial woes and his reluctance to tell the truth. Unfortunately this plot then became ludicrous when Rick decided to rob a bank in order to get some much needed money. I failed to buy that Rick would go from level-headed family man to bank robber in the matter of a couple of minutes. There are plenty of families that are struggling for money and I think that Rick’s bank robbery doesn’t accurately reflect the way in which these families deal with their situations. The fact that he went on the run from the law at the end of the episode was equally far-fetched and I think that the inclusion of this storyline ruins some of In the Club’s credibility.
In the Club’s one saving grace is the story involving fifteen-year-old schoolgirl Rosie who hasn’t told anybody that she’s pregnant. As the camera follows Rosie we see her still struggling to deal with the loss of her mother, who died from cancer the previous year. The scene in which Rosie cuddles her mother’s dressing gown is incredibly well-drawn and it provides the only subtle moment in an otherwise obvious piece. The emotional disconnect between Rosie and her father is similarly well-handled by Mellor as the latter is visibly awkward around his daughter. Although we can see he’s concerned over his daughter’s weight gain he does little to show his concern and it’s clear that he still hasn’t adjusted fully to life without his wife. One of the reasons that the character of Rosie may be as well-rounded as she is is due to the fact that Mellor sees some of herself in the character. Mellor was also a teenage mother and it appears that Rosie is the character that she identifies the most with and therefore is the only one who feels like she could exist in the real world. However, I do feel that now Rosie has collided with the rest of the characters it’s only a matter of time that her story becomes as far-fetched as the others.
In her most recent series, lottery drama The Syndicate, Mellor dedicated an episode to each individual character which meant that we got to know more about them. I think that that’s a narrative strategy she should have applied to In the Club as well as it would stop some of the characters feeling like afterthoughts. It certainly appears as if Diane and Rick were the central characters in this first episode as they were given the lion’s share of the screen time. However the episode also included major incidents involving other characters including Roanna’s divorce trial, Kim and Susie’s problems with Jude and Rosie giving birth. I just felt that I was being bombarded with exposition as Mellor tried to explain the back stories of over a dozen characters in the space of an hour. Although I realise that the writer enjoys telling multiple stories over the course of her dramas I just didn’t think it worked here. I feel that if some of the characters had been cut out then the drama would have been better paced and therefore more enjoyable. In fact the only time I thought that the use of multiple characters worked was in the scene in which all the mothers finally met at the babycraft class. Despite all of her faults, Mellor still excels at writing conversational dialogue between her female characters and it was in this scene that I felt the drama turned a corner. But this feeling was short-lived as we soon experienced more silliness including Rick’s escape from the police and Kim and Neil’s kiss.
Just like with all of Mellor’s dramas, In the Club has an ensemble cast full of faces familiar to those who watch television on a regular basis. Anybody who saw her in The Crimson Field knows that Hermione Norris is an actress who can often improve a mediocre drama. But I thought that not even she could make me care about Roanna, a woman who has seemingly discarded a secure family life for the love of a younger man. Katharine Parkinson is another actress I admire but I think that she was miscast as Kim and I didn’t believe in the relationship between her and Tara Fitzgerald’s Susie. Similarly lacking chemistry were Will Mellor and Jill Halfpenny who, as Rick and Diane, had to make the audience care about their situation. Unfortunately neither made me believe in their relationship with Will Mellor playing yet another jack-the-lad and Halfpenny making Diane appear as somebody who was particularly hard to please. On the other hand young Hannah Midgley gave a compelling turn as Rosie, making the audience sympathise with her emotional turmoil. Midgley never let her character feel clichéd and helped to make Rosie’s plot the strongest of In the Club’s many storylines.
Even though Kay Mellor’s dramas have never personally appealed to me I’ve always appreciated that her writing reaches a certain audience. However I fail to believe that even Mellor’s biggest fans will enjoy In the Club; a drama that I found to be primarily over-complicated and unrealistic. With the exception of Rosie’s turmoil and Hannah Midgley’s performance I found there was little to like about the hour’s worth of drama that I was presented with. With its thinly-drawn characters and ludicrous plot twists, In the Club is certainly one of Kay Mellor’s weakest dramas to date and is certainly one that I won’t be returning to in the near future.
What did you think to In the Club? Did you think differently to me?
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