This Friday, one of the nation’s best loved television programmes concluded their ‘Week of Revelations’ by treating fans to an ambitious, fully live episode. Following the reveal of Bobby Beale (Elliot Carrington) as the person who clobbered his half-sister Lucy (Hetti Bywater) all those months ago on Good Friday, EastEnders final episode in their highly-anticipated and heavily marketed 30th anniversary week opened with the soap’s longest-serving character, Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt), accusing his on-off spouse Jane (Laurie Brett) of killing his daughter. What followed was nothing short of a triumph in live acting and production.
Minutes after Julia’s Theme and an impromptu firework display rounded off an emotional evening in Albert Square, the internet erupted with richly deserved praise for Adam Woodyatt’s phenomenal turn as a completely broken Ian Beale attempting to hold his family together. As well as the slew of soap and television award nominations he is bound to receive in the next twelve months, commentators are calling for a BAFTA nod that I would argue doesn’t seem too far-fetched. Woodyatt’s turn in this episode bordered on virtuosic in soap acting.
Many of the show’s actors have compared the live scenes to being on stage, simply “with a bigger audience”. I would stand to disagree. The realms of soap and theatre are worlds apart in what they demand of an actor and meaning is communicated in entirely different ways to a camera than it would be towards a live theatre audience. For Adam Woodyatt to create a convincing hybrid, pushing his performance to the very limit of Ian Beale, yet never waver from the world we have become accustomed to seeing him in demonstrates an enormous amount of talent that cannot be overlooked. Simply a brilliant show of acting by EastEnders’ longest-serving resident.
While Laurie Brett coped extraordinarily well with the huge range of emotions the revelation of Jane’s part in the cover-up of her step-daughter’s murder demanded of her, it was the younger actors portraying Peter (Ben Hardy) and Cindy (Mimi Keene) who went above and beyond what was expected of them. Although the episode demanded little more than anger from Hardy and didn’t sufficiently explore the character’s reaction, the material that was given to him was fantastically acted. Meanwhile, 16-year-old Keene was tasked with reading Lucy’s final words to her father as Lucy’s missing letter was finally found. The true tear-jerking material came once again from Woodyatt’s silent, sobbing reaction, but Keene’s delivery was the perfectly controlled counterpart the scene required it to be.
Despite being inevitably lost in the shadow of the Beale family, Maddy Hill also demonstrated exemplary professionalism in a sub-plot that saw her character, Nancy, become the only witness to what could be her father murdering her cousin/uncle (in true ‘Enders fashion). Hill’s role since joining in December 2013 has been chiefly in a supporting capacity to the storylines of her family members, but she truly shone in Friday’s episode, showing completely precocious control over Nancy’s desperate emotions whilst sparing the audience both melodrama and boredom.
Although many viewers on social media continue to object to the ‘unrealistic plot’ (to which I would argue: you are watching EastEnders), I felt that the script was marvellously well handled. With the exception of a few moments veering dangerously close towards soap clichés, such as Jane’s description of carrying Lucy across Walford Common ‘like a child’, the writing refreshingly veered away from classic EastEnders ‘fallouts’ of melodrama, shouting and explosions, whether material or emotional. Having spent the last ten months desperately trying to hold his family together against crippling grief, Ian’s shattered reaction to the revelation that could unravel this was addressed with a surprising and therefore all the more captivating calmness and maturity.
Finally, the true heroes of the “Who Killed Lucy” phenomenon and its earth-shaking conclusion were thanked in the televised live after party following the episode: the entirely invisible production team. It was a truly faultless effort in the fully live episode from the same group of people who have been charged with scripting a fantastic Whodunit without knowing who the killer is. Their hard work was perhaps the most important factor in delivering half an hour of television that both encapsulated and exceeded the soap genre and celebrated a show that has, over the last 30 years, become a national treasure.
Despite soap operas’ reputation as ‘cheap entertainment’, often lumped in the same category as Big Brother or Loose Women, the cast and crew of EastEnders demonstrated why the show has been so deeply loved by the nation over the last thirty years and why it is so often considered in the television industry to be the best in its genre.