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Just Another Manic Monday?

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On Monday, I read a tabloid TV critic's column slating EastEnders' decision to embark on a bipolar storyline with Stacey, played by Lacey Turner.



As I digested the piece - and while I respect the opinion of others - I was staggered by some of the criticism, statements, comparisons and observations in an article that slowly descended into a general rant about the state of the show.

The first bizarre comment came in only the second sentence - the echo of surprise over the producers' decision to "launch another character suffering from bipolar into the show". Forgive me for sounding silly, but wasn't she already there? Aside from that, it's hardly surprising given the nature of the disorder that Stacey has developed it.

With hereditary connections and strong environmental conditions linked to the advancement of bipolar disorder, it's not surprising that Stacey, the daughter of Jean Slater (Gillian Wright) - a long-suffering manic depressive - has developed the same disorder.

As the article quite rightly points out, Stacey's only 20, has had an abortion and has recently lost her best friend Danielle in a tragic car accident - not to mention the disappearance of her brother Sean. It's enough to trigger the symptoms of bipolar…

Next, Stacey's apparently not only the victim of the condition (yes…), but also the scripts. If I were an actor, I'd quite happily be the 'victim' of a Simon Ashdown script any day.

As for branding Stacey the best character in EastEnders, I wouldn't go as far as that. More the best character of her generation.

The article then turned to Lacey's 'increasingly difficult' task of 'carrying' the series. Further, the storyline is allegedly doing her a 'disservice' after she had created 'the only character in the series who was multi-dimensional'.

Granted, the 21-year-old shoulders a fair whack of the programme, but this material is pushing her acting abilities to unseen levels. Lacey's one of the BBC soap's finest actresses and to be handed a story with scenes as powerful as those in last Tuesday's episode must be nothing short of a privilege. The subject matter, however, may be difficult and the portrayal of the condition quite probably more so. It's a given that Stacey's a superb specimen and one of the best female characters in soapland, but quite how the plot is doing the actress a disservice, I'll never know.

Apparently, the storyline 'doesn't offer anything that Jean or Stacey (her carer) haven't dealt with already' - in dramatic terms, that is. Surely the reversal of the patient/carer roles is sufficient to change the dynamic of their relationship. Having cared for her mother for as many years as she can remember, Stacey's now having to come to terms with the prospect of going through exactly what her mother has. That fact alone is surely enough to alter the dramatic interplay between them. The only common denominator of the story is bipolar, which, in my opinion, isn't the focus of the story.

Then comes the piéce de résistance of the review. Jean - played by the utterly convincing Gillian Wright - is branded 'the most irritating character in soap'. Has the author not tuned into Coronation Street recently? Let me introduce you to Sean Tully, played by the delectable Antony Cotton. In comparison, Jean's a delight to watch. Admittedly, Jean can become slightly overbearing on screen, but I put that down to a job well done.

The reduction of Stacey to an 'issue' is slightly unfair, too. In my eyes, this is a story about a character who just so happens to have bipolar disorder. The story emanates from the character's reaction to the prospect of living with the condition, how she tries to avoid a diagnosis as she's mentally scarred from her mother's ordeal, how she interacts with her friends and family and how her condition affects her and those around her. To reduce such a complex plot and character to an 'issue' is the real disservice.

Yes, it's raising awareness of bipolar in the general public, but as far as the character's concerned, there's a bigger picture. By using the same broad brush as has previously been employed, I ask: is the introduction of wheelchair-bound character Adam Best (David Proud) simply an 'issue' storyline? I think not.

The most staggering omission of all was the lack of due credit and respect to Lacey Turner for turning in what was - to date - one of the standout performances of the year.



The piece then went on to rant about the unhappy state of affairs of the residents of Albert Square. It's probably worth pointing out that the families of Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Hollyoaks are plagued with bad luck, too.

Soapland's not a happy place. Rarely is, rarely will be. Births are about the only moment of joy characters seem to have and even some of those are agonising in all respects. Weddings scarcely go without hitch, birthdays hardly ever go to plan - heck, even walking down the road has its dangers.

But that's the nature of soap. It's a bad, bad world to live in. But that's what lures viewers back night after night. Producers face an almost impossible and relentless task to maintain a serial format all year round and something that they should be applauded for. All soaps have their lulls, but to dedicate a column slating EastEnders - one of the soaps that's on top of its game at the moment - and a powerful storyline to boot, feels more like quota filling than the offer of constructive criticism. Get the Inside Soap magazine on your iPhone or iPad

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