Dublin dysfunction in The Dry series two

Dublin dysfunction in The Dry series two

Wednesday, 3rd April 2024
The Sheridan family of The Dry sit on a couch
The Dry’s Sheridan family (left to right): Caroline, Bernie, Shiv, Tom and Ant (credit: RTÉ)
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Matthew Bell hears how a second helping of the glorious comedy drama The Dry made it to the screen

Dublin comedy drama The Dry made a welcome return to ITVX last month, reuniting viewers with the Sheridans, a family so messed up that they are a bigger threat to daughter Shiv’s sobriety than the booze.

Writer and creator Nancy Harris told the RTS that The Dry was “never a show just about addiction; it was about how somebody lives within their family”.

Series one, Harris said, left the Sheridans in a “bitter-sweet place”. Shiv (Roisin Gallagher) had “fallen off the wagon quite spectacularly”. Her family rallied around and took her to AA, where her mother, Bernie (Pom Boyd), realising she too had a problem, joined her. “We are left with this little moment of hope between [Shiv] and her mother who she’s had this long and fractious relationship with.”

Series two starts seven months later, with Shiv sober but fragile. The Sheridans, though, remain entirely dysfunctional. The original cast, which includes Ciarán Hinds as Shiv’s father, Tom, Siobhán Cullen (her sister, Caroline) and Adam Richardson (brother Ant), is joined by Bernie’s boyfriend, Finbar (Michael McElhatton), an awful ex-sociology professor, and Alex (Sam Keeley), Shiv’s new love interest.

Gallagher said she “was so thrilled when I knew there was going to be a second series. I just wasn’t ready to let Shiv go. I felt like there was so much more story to tell.”

Shiv is a great role: lovable, funny, vulnerable, but capable of making terrible decisions. Gallagher added: “If she was a person sitting beside me, sometimes I’d want to hug her, sometimes I’d want to hit her and sometimes I’d want to give her a good kick up the arse.”

Harris, a successful Irish playwright, wrote The Dry from experience: “I grew up around a lot of people in recovery and then had a number of relationships with people in active addiction in later life.

“I learnt very quickly that alcoholism and addiction are all around us…. In Ireland, one of the reviewers said, ‘Well, she doesn’t look like an alcoholic’, which got all of us enraged because that was the point of the show – we don’t know what an alcoholic looks like.

“It’s such a complex subject: there’s no one right way of getting sober; there’s no one way an addict is… and there’s no one way of being affected by being a child or partner of an alcoholic – everybody is different. I felt this would be a really interesting way to look at a family and explore its dynamics.”

Harris approached Element Pictures, makers of Normal People, and Irish broadcaster RTÉ came on board. But Element needed to attract a UK broadcaster to fund the series.

“We were faced with a lot of conversations [that went], ‘I have a messy thirtysomething show already’ or ‘We’ve got an Irish show’, recalled Element executive producer Emma Norton. “There were a lot of knockbacks but the scripts were really funny. I’d worked on a lot of very serious things and I didn’t want to lose the funny one.”

Eventually, BritBox signed up and the first series dropped on the streamer in May 2022, with RTÉ One screening it in 2023 and ITV1 earlier this year. The 8 x 30-minute series two was commissioned by RTÉ and ITVX.

Paddy Breathnach, whom Norton worked with on the Roddy Doyle-scripted film about homelessness, Rosie, has directed both series of The Dry.

The duo cast series one of The Dry during the pandemic. “It allowed us to watch a lot of tapes, then go through recalls on Zoom… and get into chemistry testing. It was intensive but revealing,” recalled Norton.

Breathnach likes to take time over casting: “[Deciding] who you’re casting makes the character come alive… you get to know the scripts and characters… By the time you come to shoot the thing, you’ve ingested a lot of it and also the voices of the other core creatives involved. It unifies the vision.”

That vision is of a series that moves from the darkest of places to broad comedy and back again in a flash. It works because the writing, direction and acting are superlative – it’s addictive, in all the right ways.

‘The Dry: series two Q&A’ was held on 14 March, hosted by Rachael Sigee and produced by Molly Diver from Premier.


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