Review - The boy's a nightmare, but the adults are worse

Either Hugo or Adam is going to get it.

The drama, after all, is called The Slap. And there has been enough publicity around the prize-winning book on which it is based to know that one child is going to emerge from the first episode redder, sorer and more litigiously inclined.

The eight-part BBC4 drama, made in Australia, opens with a barbecue to celebrate Hector's 40th birthday. As his friends gather in the house, Hector marks the occasion by yelling at his son Adam.

Hector does not appear to like Adam very much. When the boy's sister calls him a fat pig, Hector responds with a silence that only amplifies her words. Ten minutes in, Adam is looking like a strong candidate for that slap.

But then Hugo appears. In the space of a single afternoon, Hugo - a one-boy argument for reducing the age of criminal responsibility - digs up a flowerbed, breaks a video-games console and works his sticky-handed way through Hector's beloved jazz CDs.

By the time Harry, Hector's cousin, finally slaps the child, there is surely not a single viewer who is not cheering him on. Still, Hugo's mother Rosie does not see it that way. "That's child abuse!" she yells, clasping Hugo to her bosom and rushing off to press charges.

The book, by Christos Tsiolkas, on which the drama is based, tells the story of the event and its aftermath from the point of view of eight characters. The second episode is seen through the eyes of Anouk, lead writer for a successful soap opera.

Anouk is wonderful, in the way that only deeply unhappy people can be. She tells Hector's children that she cannot remember kissing her near-foetal boyfriend for the first time, because she was drunk; she tells her egregious boss to go fuck himself. And - standing ovation here - she tells Rosie: "Hugo's problem is not that Harry gave him a slap. Hugo's problem is that you and Gary let him act like an absolute brat."

It is a shame, therefore, that her plotlines could come straight out of her own soap. She vomits in the morning; she feels strangely faint. Guess what could be happening? Debating whether or not to have the baby, she says: "How am I supposed to be a great writer if I haven't had that experience?"

Still, it is a finely acted drama, with a selection of big-name actors. And, for all its occasional cliches, it is eminently watchable, neatly interweaving single-episode plotlines into the overarching slapping story. There are certainly far worse ways to spend an hour a week. In Hugo's company, for starters.

The Slap, BBC4, Thursdays at 10pm.

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