Tangle: articles

What a tangled web

There are many ways to describe the aptly titled Tangle. It's a dark drama about the middle class. It's a reworking of Thackeray's novel Vanity Fair, with Kat Stewart playing a modern variation on the social climbing Becky Sharp. It's also the final part of a trilogy that began with The Secret Life of Us and Love My Way.

Secret Life focused on twentysomethings negotiating love and life in St Kilda; Love My Way did a similar thing with thirtysomethings in Sydney. Tangle returns to Melbourne for a tale of fortysomethings and their children.

Producers John Edwards and Imogen Banks and writer Fiona Seres spent more than three years on the 10-part drama but still sigh when asked to describe it. "It's always been our joke that it's an unpitchable show," Banks says.

Matt Day, who plays disillusioned doctor Gabriel, reckons the series is interesting precisely because it's not easy to label. "It shows people dealing with life's moral ambiguities," he says. "There's no black and white, right and wrong in the show. It's about the struggle to live a good life and no one seems to do very well at it."

Tangle focuses on a group of families and friends. Dreamy Ally Kovac (Justine Clarke) and swaggering developer Vince (Ben Mendelsohn) have two children: Romeo (Lincoln Younes), a chip off the old block, and quietly watchful Gigi (Eva Lazzaro). They are friends with psychologist Christine (Catherine McClements) and politician Tim (Joel Tobeck), whose son Max (Blake Davis) celebrates his 15th birthday in the opening episode. Their comfortable life is shaken by the return from London of Ally's older sister, Nat (Stewart), who is Max's biological mother, the result of a brief affair with Tim.

At the same time Gabriel, Vince's best mate, also comes home, disillusioned after years working with street kids in Russia. His most recent relationship is in tatters and he still holds a candle for Ally. Meanwhile Vince is having an affair with Em (Lucia Mastrantone), the mother of Max's friend, Charlotte (Georgia Flood).

So the significance of the title becomes apparent. Yes, it's complicated but, as Seres notes, "mess makes drama. As soon as you put people together and rub them up against each other, you've got all this good stuff that's fun to write."

Tangle began taking shape when Edwards and Seres, who'd worked on Love My Way, Fireflies, The Surgeon and Dangerous, were looking for a new project. Edwards had been reading Vanity Fair and toying with its dramatic possibilities. Banks talked to Seres about an idea she had for a story about a woman fighting for custody of a child she'd had as the result of an affair. Seres suggested Banks talk to Edwards and their ideas merged, with Vanity Fair's best friends becoming Tangle's sisters.

The trio began by building triangles on screen: "A lot of the conversations we had early on were about creating triangles, for the kids and the adults," Edwards recalls. "That's why there are six main adult characters: it's divisible by three. In Secret Life, we had nine characters for the same reason. You have to build your triangles."

At the centre is Nat. "Nat can be really charming and likeable but there's always chaos around her; people are always cleaning up her mess," Seres says. The creators were delighted by the element of insecurity that Stewart (Underbelly, Newstopia, :30 Seconds) brought to the character. "Kat brings this gorgeous vulnerability, as well as a fabulous archness, to Nat," Banks says.

With Nat's return, sparks fly and many of those around her get burned, although not entirely as a consequence of her mischief. A dark shadow hangs over the series. Minutes into the first episode there's a startling accident, the repercussions of which are felt throughout the series.

"In my shows, that happens," Edwards says. "The shows are about life, and there's death in life . . . In just about every show I've done since [Secret Life] somebody's died in the first series. It's not conscious but it keeps coming up."

Among the deaths in Edwards's productions have been those of Rush's policewoman Grace (Claire van der Boom), Dangerous's ram-raiding E.C. (Nicole da Silva) and, most memorably, young Lou (Alex Cook) in Love My Way.

During the development of Tangle, however, a sense of the fragility of life loomed especially large for the creators. As the show was written, one of them suffered a stroke, another endured the death of a spouse and the third went through a divorce. It's not surprising some of the trauma found its way into this tale of family life.

For Matt Day, that's also one of Tangle's strengths. "It is quite dark and there's a streak of cruelty in there as well. But it's interesting because a lot of Australian TV is quite optimistic and this is quite a change in diet; it's roughage."

A little like his character in the show, Day has spent a considerable time overseas. He lived in London for eight years until early last year, working on such shows as Spooks, The Commander, Hotel Babylon, The Hound of the Baskervilles and Shackleton.

"It's nice — they send a big car to pick you up and you get a big trailer and your costume is hanging inside," he says. "But at the end of the day, what you want is a decent script and I haven't read a TV script as good as this anywhere else."

By Debi Enker
September 30, 2009
Sydney Morning Herald