This new series from the pen of Debbie Horsfield aired on BBC1 last night and went from zero to seventy in about a minute, or at least it felt that way…
One minute we were being introduced to Esther – played by Sarah Lancashire – and her devoted husband Michael – played by Neil Pearson – who were blissfully celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary and almost the next, he’s dumped her for newcomer Layla – Sarah Alexander.
It happened dizzyingly and unbelievably fast, even accepting that men of a certain age are prone to acts of utter stupidity and calling it a mid-life crisis when they commit one. All of a sudden, everything we’d seen about Esther and Michael being a loving – but rather dull – and contented couple was exploded with a few bats of Layla’s not inconsiderable eyelashes.
As a storyline, it was about as convincing as Sarah Alexander’s miming…
In case you missed it, here’s a recap of what happened; Esther and Michael live in a town in the north of England; filming actually took place around Glossop, Derbyshire. The plucky but self-effacing Esther sings her heart out in the local choir, a disparate collective whose enthusiasm far outweighs its musical ability, and which is conducted by her husband, the charismatic Michael.
Full-time mother to teens Fred, Georgia and the troubled but musically gifted Kyle – played by Richard Fleeshman – Esther nimbly juggles the demands of clashing choral egos and chaotic family life.
One of the first scenes was of the choir singing a rendition of Nobody Does It Better as Esther’s anniversary present to Michael. He hadn’t got her anything but she didn’t mind and a play fight over it ended up in the marital bed. Too sickly sweet for words? Yes apparently so because the matrimonial harmony was to last as long as a Cornetto on a hot windowsill once Layla had shown up.
With the voice of an angel and the simmering sexuality of a devil in fishnets, she’d barely finished her impromptu audition before she and Michael were an item and he’d dumped Esther amid cries of husbandly discontent such as, “When was the last time you travelled, or learnt a new skill or brought a new perfume? When do you ever step outside your comfort zone?” leaving Esther staring open mouthed as he walked out of her life and into Layla’s.
So he starts doing things Layla’s way, which includes jettisoning all but the most gifted singers from the choir in the ruthless pursuit of prizes and recognition.
Now, excluded from the choir and from her marriage, Esther’s life is turned upside down. As the less able singers are forced out of the revamped choir, Esther unwittingly finds herself at the heart of an eclectic troupe of misfits, united only by their passion for music.
Unexpectedly joined by the younger generation – and her funky next door neighbour who clearly has a ‘thing’ for Esther – and their loud, sometimes abrasive musical offerings, it’s Esther’s task to unite the classical and contemporary. Through Kyle’s extraordinary talent and her own quiet determination, she creates a new choir on the block.
So this new group of hopefuls enter the same competition as Michael and Layla’s newly shaken up choral outfit and Esther’s choir win – with a rendition of Blink 182’s ‘All The Small Things’ – taking home the glory and the trophy, much to Layla’s anger. She’d tried to sabotage them from the get go but had failed.
Revenge is on Layla’s nutjob mind now; she’s not the kind to take losing lying down, though that is seemingly the position from which she negotiates most of her life…
I just couldn’t buy into this at all. It all happened too fast, it was all a bit to obvious and somewhat predictable. There were some memorably good moments for sure but with a cast list this venerable, it’d be nigh on impossible for there not to have been, but they were too few to make me want to tune in again.
I’m pretty sure I know what’ll happen by the end anyway; I suspect Michael will be on the receiving end of Layla’s craziness and go crawling back to Esther and despite feeling sorry for him, she’ll probably reject him for a life of musical and loving harmony with the dude next door…
Could be wrong but we’ll see.