As a recurring motif in ABC’s new drama, it’s a song that gets stuck in your head and refuses to leave. It might just drive you mad.
What’s the worst song you could get stuck in your head?
An earworm that just digs its way into your mind, crawling around, laying eggs until it feels like you have multiple harmonies of the same song competing for attention. Eventually, even “Baby Shark” becomes a better alternative.
If you answered, “Come On, Eileen”, you get a prize! It’s a not an Oprah-level prize, more like bragging rights.
If the Dexy’s Midnight Runners tune triggers something in you, then ABC’s new drama series Wakefield might be problematic – or at least very unsettlingly relatable. It will definitely be stuck in your head for at least a week.
As a recurring motif, “Come On, Eileen” is used in Wakefield to signal the deteriorating mental state of Nik (Rudi Dharmalingam), a warm and resourceful nurse at a mental health ward in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.
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Nik is the go-to guy on the team, he has a light touch with the patients and the staff, but what happens if the person everyone relies on starts to blur the line between sanity and madness?
That’s the premise of the eight-part drama, created by Kristen Dunphy and starring British actor Dharmalingam (who nails the Australian accent, by the way) alongside an ensemble cast that includes Geraldine Hakewill, Mandy McElhinney, Ryan Corr, Harriet Dyer and Dan Wyllie.
Nik is trying to juggle the needs of his patients along with his own ambitions for a promotion against his passive-aggressive manager Linda (McElhinney). He’s also working alongside his former fiancee Kareena (Hakewill), the leading doctor in the ward. So, he’s already got a lot going on.
When “Come On, Eileen” comes on the radio, it seems to unlock something in him, and memories of a traumatic past start creeping in. In keeping with the use of the song, Wakefield depicts these moments in Nik’s head as musical numbers, linked to his childhood tap dancing lessons.
It’s an effective visual and aural tactic in transporting audiences to this not-quite-here world in Nik’s mind, vividly underscoring his disconnection from his present moment.
It also serves to leaven the tone of what can be a heavy subject matter, all adeptly balanced by directors Jocelyn Moorhouse and Kim Mordaunt.
Wakefield is born out of creator Dunphy’s own experience in a mental ward and she’s spoken about how she found the place both devastating and funny, a vibe she’s brought to the show.
The characters that inhabit Wakefield have serious problems ranging from post-natal depression to hypersexuality, but the series finds the humour in the situations without punching down.
It always treats the characters with compassion, such as Dyer’s Genevieve, whose sexual appetite fuels her constant disrobing and seduction. Yes, it’s funny, but she’s never objectified and that’s in credit to Corr, who plays Genevieve’s husband, and Dyer’s performances.
It helps to demystify and destigmatise experiences that affect many Australians.
Wakefield skilfully plays with these individual stories while also serving the wider story arc, and the mystery of why Nik is unravelling at this very moment, to create an engaging drama with a lot of heart.
Wakefield is streaming now on ABC iview
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