Scene: Alison Age group: 13-17 BBC2, Friday, March 24, 1.00-1.30pm. Teachers' notes, Pounds 4.50 each term. Free scripts available by calling 081-746 1111. BBC Education,White City, London W12 7TS.
A new drama brings personal and social education to life with humour and tenderness. Reva Klein enjoys the experience.
This latest drama in the Scene series is a hybrid a romance at once tender and comic and, if you look at it in a particular way, an entertainingly dramatised personal and social education lesson. Terry comes back to his northern seaside hometown after an absence of 10 years. In the pub, he bumps into an old teenage flame Alison (Sarah-Jane Potts) and they spend the rest of the day going back over old ground.
These old friends look back on their 16-year-old former selves, and the drama follows their teen romance. Here passions run high, loyalties low and peer pressure is king. Terry fancies Alison like mad, undeterred when his beer-swilling aspirant yob of a mate calls her a "nympho-shaggin' maniac". Terry pursues her. Being the shy wimp that he is, this means skulking around outside the toilets at Barbie's disco until she emerges with her band of hormonally-hyper girlfriends.
They dance terribly with their terrible hair and terrible clothes, they drink coffee in a cocktail bar that he couldn't get her drunk in, even if he wanted to, because a silly little glass of green liquid with an umbrella floating in it costs Pounds 3.50 and this is 10 years ago! And they snog. A lot. His hands roam and she firmly diverts them on to neutral territory, like the sofa.
Two months pass. Alison consults her oracular friends about Terry's unrelenting horniness and Terry gets unwanted advice about how to break through Ali's resistance. In a beautifully shot scene with Alison in face pack, her long hair spread out around her, she finally comes to a decision: "I think I'll get it over with," she resolves, just as Terry declares to one of his big-talking friends that "I don't mind waiting".
The inevitable happens. And it's as horrible, bad-tempered and nerve-racking as it is in real life when you approach it as you would a visit to the dentist, just to get it out of the way. Terry's running back and forth to the bathroom to fumble with the condom and his insistence to Ali that she takes her clothes off because "it's one of the rules", are gentle evocations of the sheer embarrassment of this particular rite of passage.
Soon after the deed is done, Terry succumbs to yob pressure and gets too drunk to meet Ali at a pop concert. His mates don't like his loyalties being split. And Ali doesn't like waiting. So she calls it quits.
Interspersed between the flashbacks, the older, wiser pair conduct a bittersweet post- mortem over their romance. Their defences down, as ex-lovers they speak more intimately and honestly than they ever could as young teenagers who had just lost their virginity with each other (although she doesn't know that about him until now, 10 years later).
This is where the PSE bit comes in. She chides him for not engaging in foreplay, says she likes social intercourse before sexual intercourse, explains how girls need to get to know somebody before they want sex with them. "Sex complicates everything," he agrees, but proceeds to extract from her how he rated in bed and wryly declares that "personally, I think the quick bang's had a very bad press". She smiles gamely, then takes him back to show her an aspect of the quick bang that's also had a very bad press: her 10-year-old daughter, fathered by one of the wallies in Terry's old gang.
Written by BAFTA winner Al Hunter Ashton, Alison is sensitive without being gooey, funny without losing its sense of direction. If it sets out to chalk up brownie points, they are brownie points that are important to make. One of them is the importance of open communication between boys and girls, especially when it comes to talking about feelings and desires. Neither Terry nor Alison was, they learned 10 years down the road, eager to "do the business". But, in that vicarious way that teenagers have, everyone around them was eager for them, and they succumbed to that irresistible force.
Similarly, Terry's besottedness with Ali was seen by his mates as letting down the side. So they made him let her down instead. While not profoundly philosophical, these are areas that most teachers can't hope to reach with anything like the credibility and panache that Alison achieves. So switch on and let Scene do it for you. And be prepared for lots of talk afterwards.