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Scott and Bailey

ITV should celebrate yet another strangely good drama.

Scott and Bailey

The new ITV cop drama Scott and Bailey (Sundays, 9pm) is unexpectedly good, and here's why. It feels authentic. This isn't just down to all the police procedural stuff (the series was co-created by Diane Taylor, who has a 30-year career in the police force behind her). It's in the dialogue, too. In part one (29 May), DC Rachel Bailey (Suranne Jones) turned up at the flat of Nick Savage (Rupert Graves), a smooth barrister who had recently dumped her. She wanted to know why. Was he bored with her? No. Savage told her first that she drank too much, and then that he was perturbed that she sometimes left for work without having had a shower.

The scene was comical and nasty at the same time - his distaste, her slightly flustered shame at his distaste - and even though we later discovered that Savage has a wife, to whom he had discreetly returned, that did not even remotely erode its authenticity for me. Some men do find women, their bodies and their smells, rather hard to cope with. I expect that Savage's wife, having no grisly murders to investigate, smells strongly of Crabtree & Evelyn lavender shower gel.

Who wrote this dialogue? Perhaps you won't be surprised to hear that it was Sally Wainwright. I love Wainwright's writing: it's sparky but somehow truthful, and she takes seemingly crazy risks in her work, merrily turning housewives into prime ministers (The Amazing Mrs Pritchard) and secret millionaires (At Home With the Braithwaites).

On the surface of it, this show is more conservative fare: as the Radio Times keeps telling us, essentially it's Cagney and Lacey in Manchester (Bailey's partner, DC Janet Scott, is played by the ever-brilliant Lesley Sharp). Both cops are overworked, and while Bailey is single and miserable about it, Scott has children and a husband whom she must sometimes neglect, given her hours. But you can also see Wainwright's touches everywhere.

In some other writer's hands, for instance, these two women would have a male DI - a fat, blokeish and difficult fellow who would leave them rolling their eyes behind his back. But here they have DI Gill Murray (Amelia Bullmore), a slightly comic character. In one scene, we saw her at her desk on the telephone. She was telling one of her children to photograph his homework on his mobile and text it to her.

You feel Wainwright's hand, too, in the backstories. Bailey has now decided that she requires "compensation" from Savage in the form of the bachelor flat he lived in during his separation from his wife. This is blackmail of sorts, but she is really going for it, turning up at the marital home unexpectedly, scaring the pants off him. A trailer at the end of the first programme showed that next she is going to demand something even bigger from him (well, not literally): his sperm.

Bailey is, as they say, seriously out there - and yet her skills as a cop cannot be faulted. When she is in the business of extracting a confession, it's like watching a poacher gently tickle a prize salmon's belly. How far can she go? We shall see. For my part, I don't blame her for going nuts. Who, after all, would want to be dumped by Rupert Graves? (I have only to think of his lovely performance as Jolyon in The Forsyte Saga to go all Chivers jelly.) But Wainwright will have had to balance her writerly desire for a certain kind of craziness with ITV's desire to have a hit series it can recommission (this has long-running written all over it, though whether or not Sharp would be up for that - she can hardly be short of work - is surely questionable).

Is Peter Fincham, the BBC executive who now runs the ITV network, pleased with Scott and Bailey? He should be, though the peculiar thing is that, so far as he is concerned, it's just one of many equally good shows. Daybreak is still unfathomably bad and, slowly but surely, I am coming to despise its presenters. Elsewhere, however, something truly remarkable is happening at ITV. I have this comforting, back-to-the-future feeling every time I switch over to it. Fincham and his colleagues are making the popular respectable again - and I, for one, couldn't be happier about that.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 06 June 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Are we all doomed?

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Shell-shock symphony: Berg’s Wozzeck – opera’s take on post-traumatic stress disorder

Begun in 1914 and premiered in 1925, Wozzeck has class struggle, poverty and mental health problems as its principal subjects.

When I was 12 years old, I made a devastating discovery. The arias from my favourite operas – Rigoletto, Turandot, The Barber of Seville – which I played over and over again, winding and rewinding the cassettes ­until they ceased to work, did not ­necessarily have words that matched the beauty of the music. Intense study of a book I had received for Christmas called Stories from Opera taught me that although some of the soaring melodies I adored carried words about love, death, horror and tragedy, other lyrics, in translation, proved to be people agreeing where to meet later, or misremembering each other’s names.

This crushing disappointment came to mind again recently while I was listening to an edition of Radio 3’s Building a Library, a segment of its regular Saturday-morning CD review, in which new releases are compared and contrasted with archive recordings to find the best listening experience. The reviewer Gillian Moore was surveying the available recordings of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck. She gave credit to several English-language recordings for the clarity they offer newcomers to this work, but eventually concluded that she must recommend a version using the original German, because there were crucial aural elements that could not be reproduced without it.

Moore, now director of music at the Southbank Centre, chose to kick off a series of semi-staged concert performances of operas with Wozzeck. Although undoubtedly an opera, it was a far cry from the fairy stories and doomed romances that filled my pre-teen ears, but it worked surprisingly well stripped of scenery, costumes and other theatrical accoutrements.

Zurich Opera’s presentation placed importance on the orchestral score above all else, allowing its jagged and insistent lines to remind us that this is music born of the dark years between the world wars. Begun in 1914, but delayed while Berg served in the Austro-Hungarian army (it premiered in 1925), it has class struggle, poverty and mental health problems as its principal subjects. The score owes much to Berg’s fellow Viennese composers Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg (Mahler’s widow put up the money for the initial publication of the score). At times in this production, the orchestra was so utterly central that it felt like a symphony with singing, rather than vocal melodies with accompaniment.

The Wozzeck of the title is a poor soldier, flawed and dogged by madness and visions we would probably now see as signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. He scrapes a living for his girlfriend, Marie, and their son by humiliating himself before his military and class superiors (the Captain, the Doctor, the Drum Major) and by participating in degrading medical “experiments”. The star of the show, the German baritone Christian Gerhaher, had to withdraw at the last minute for health reasons, so the British singer Leigh Melrose stepped in to reprise his Wozzeck from the widely acclaimed 2013 ENO production. Despite performing from behind a music stand, Melrose acquitted himself well, handling the transitions between Berg’s three singing styles: “half-singing”, Sprechgesang (or “spoken singing”) and full vocalisation to great effect.

Gun-Brit Barkmin, with a severe Twenties bob and a flowing scarlet dress, was a superb Marie – alternately harsh and soft as the music demanded it, flirting destructively with the Drum Major while conveying how little choice she had in the matter. Of the ensemble, Lars Woldt’s Doctor particularly stood out, using the German libretto to drag every ounce of black comedy out of his character’s fascination with Wozzeck’s bodily functions. The high vocal standard proved Moore’s point about the necessity of the original German libretto – it is a difficult language to sing, because of all the harsh consonants and modified vowels, but when used expertly can be unendingly expressive. We hear this in the way the double “zz” of the title character’s name becomes a derisory bitten-off “tz” in the mouth of the Captain; and Wozzeck’s exclamation in Act I that “Du, der Platz ist verflucht!” sounds so much more accursed and deranged with all those consonants in such close proximity.

The German sociologist Theodor Adorno once called Berg “the foreign minister of the land of his dreams”, much to the composer’s amusement; but, hearing the score for Wozzeck laid so bare, you understand what Adorno meant. The incredible double crescendo on a single B from the orchestra after Wozzeck murders Marie – raised by the conductor Fabio Luisi in this performance to an unbearable volume before being allowed to die away – feels like music from an other-worldly nightmare. Yet, for the war-battered men who inspired Wozzeck, his tragic half-life was all too real.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Isis