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Double Dare (1976)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Double Dare (1976)
For Play for Today, BBC1, tx. 6/4/1976
65 minutes, colour
DirectorJohn Mackenzie
ProducerKenith Trodd
ByDennis Potter

Cast: Alan Dobie (Martin); Kika Markham (Helen/Carol); Malcolm Terris (Client); Joe Melia (Ben); John Hamill (Peter)

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A playwright struggling with writer's block interviews a young actress for a part, but finds that life begins to imitate his art.

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'Double Dare' was originally transmitted in the slot left vacant when Dennis Potter's notorious 'Brimstone and Treacle' (Play for Today, tx. 25/8/1987) was suddenly withdrawn by BBC head of television Alasdair Milne. This surprised producer Kenith Trodd, as he considered the sexual content of 'Double Dare' would make it a more likely candidate for withdrawal. Potter claimed that both plays formed a loose trilogy with Where Adam Stood (tx 21/4/1976), but in fact 'Double Dare' is much more closely linked to his earlier play 'Follow the Yellow Brick Road' (The Sextet, tx. 4/7/1972) and his novel Hide and Seek, both of which feature a similar examination of the relationship between author and character, and reflect Potter's struggle to come to terms with female sexuality.

The play tells the story of Martin Ellis (Alan Dobie), a blocked television playwright who has arranged to meet actress Helen (Kika Markham) to explore an idea involving a similar meeting between a prostitute and her client. Although Potter claimed that using a writer as the central character in so many of his plays was "probably because I've run out of knowledge about what other people do for a living", in the case of 'Double Dare' he was even closer to the action than usual. Both Markham and Trodd have confirmed that the play was based on a real event, with Markham asserting that the dialogue was a virtual transcript of her and Potter's own, rather fraught, meeting.

This level of reflexiveness adds to the tension of the play as the action shifts between Martin and Helen, and a businessman (Malcolm Ferris) and his escort Carol, reflecting Potter's belief in some form of equivalence between the two relationships. More interestingly, Martin is increasingly disturbed by the presence of the other couple, feeling sure that he has in fact brought them into being, and as the play progresses he begins to fear that even Helen and his agent are somehow controlled by him as well.

In 'Double Dare' Potter attempts to derive successful drama out of the links between creativity and sexuality but is ultimately too much in thrall to the specifics of his original meeting with Markham. However, the disconcerting scenes where Martin loses control of his narrative strongly prefigure Potter's more effective use of this concept in both The Singing Detective (BBC, 1985) and Karaoke (BBC, 1996).

John Williams

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Video Clips
1. The way people talk to each other (4:11)
2. 'I feel sick' (4:23)
3. Public performance and private acts (3:52)
Blackeyes (1989)
Singing Detective, The (1986)
Mackenzie, John (1932-2011)
Potter, Dennis (1935-1994)
Trodd, Kenith (1936-)
Play for Today (1970-84)