Nic Wright

Review: Inside No. 9, Nana’s Party

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Framed by the dramatic arrival of a paramedic, episode five of Inside No. 9 hurries us into a house on a leafy suburban street, where uptight, tassel-straightening Angela is laying on a spread for her mother’s birthday party.

Already perturbed by the imminent arrival of her family, Angela, played by Outnumbered’s Claire Skinner, is dragged into unadventurous husband Jim’s plot to get back at his practical-joke-loving brother-in-law.

Despite the insipid kitchen sink set-up, simmering tensions are soon alluded to, and in true No. 9 style, more than a few grubby skeletons threaten to tumble from the family’s closet.

Like series opener La Couchette, Nana’s Party is steeped in the old Sartre sentiment; “Hell is other people.” Barbed digs fly and nerves wear thin, as the claustrophobia of being trapped with people you don’t necessarily enjoy – whether by the walls of a train carriage or blood – bears down.

And when it comes to writing embarrassing and insufferable people, writers Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith are masters of their craft.

Angela’s clingy, gin-soaked sister and insufferable, dad-joking brother-in-law are chief among the horror show; well-drawn, recognisable, and all too human monsters. (If you weren’t wishing for the episode to end with Pat’s grisly, prolonged demise, you are probably a Hare Krishna or something.)

Amongst the Marksies’ sausage rolls and the unique, exquisite pain of showing an old person how to use a tablet, this ordinary corner of Middle England unfolds in increasingly unpleasant and unexpectedly sad ways.

There are shows that can’t render in twelve hours what this pair can do in thirty minutes; chiefly drawing miserable sympathy for characters that ten minutes ago, you wanted to murder with your bare hands.

Touching on adultery, childlessness, and alcoholism Nana’s Party’s most poignant set-piece of all is also its finest moment; the momentary portrayal of browbeaten, truly unconditional love.

While not the funniest or the most shocking episode of the series – though there are a few choice, hand-over-your-mouth moments – Nana’s Party might well be the saddest. Where 12 Days of Christine was a mind-bending wreck of emotion, Nana’s Party is a slow-burner, with shards of honesty and agony that sit right at the heart of the family unit.

And if that’s not sold you, there’s also a stripper.

Because they can.