Small town, fresh start for new TV drama & First ‘Mercy Peak’ reveals highs
Small town, fresh start for new TV drama
Don’t call it a Kiwi ‘Providence’, don’t label it the New Zealand ‘SeaChange’. KATHERINE HOBY finds ‘Mercy Peak’s’ storyline might sound similar to both but it’s all ours.
South Pacific Pictures are hoping for great things from Mercy Peak. The makers of Shortland Street, Jacksons Wharf and Lawless have put together an ensemble cast for the 10-part series, which starts on Wednesday.
Series co-creator Rachel Lang says its essential premise is one of hope and the idea that even if things are less than perfect, “you can still find a way through.” “I really wanted to write something optimistic with the idea that within a community, people of different perspectives can make a life together.”
Mercy Peak follows the progress of Nicky Somerville, who leaves life in the big city to make a fresh start in the provincial town of Bassett, where she is singled out by the town’s disaffected GP Alistair Kingsley, played by Craig Parker. Parker finds the new series hard to put into words, but he doesn’t want it pigeon-holed.
“It’s a drama, or a whole series of one-off dramas, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously and has elements of comedy. “None of us is quite sure what it is. It’s probably easier to say there are a lot of things it isn’t. “It’s about a group of people and the sorts of things that happen to them,” he says. Parker plays a frustrated, angry young man as he deals with his feelings about his father and being stuck in Bassett. “He doesn’t really want to be there at all,” Parker says. “And a lot of the show to do with him is about the struggle with that.”
Bassett, played by Warkworth, north of Auckland, is much like small-town New Zealand, he says. Many residents have lived there all their lives and see no reason to leave. “The town can do no wrong in many residents’ eyes. Yet he [Alistair] feels stifled,” he says. He left Bassett to study medicine in the city, but returned when his mother became ill. He then stayed on to help his father. “So that’s why he grabs hold of Nicky [Sara Wiseman] when she arrives. He recognises the outsider in her,” he says. “Just to pick up and leave would be failure in his dad’s eyes.”
The cast are “a super-talented bunch of Kiwi grown-ups to work with.” “Jeff [Thomas, who plays his father, William Kingsley] just does things so beautifully. He had a level of performance I aspired to.” Filming Mercy Peak, which started in April and winds up in October, is an enjoyable job, Parker says. “With the luxury of film to work with, we had time to take care with things.”
“The scripts didn’t force resolutions. Audiences now are quite happy to work things out for themselves, they don’t need to be spoon-fed. We don’t have to tell them the full story, that’s the joy of it.” Parker describes Mercy Peak as a “grown-up show.” “Those watching will recognise small-town New Zealand, and the characters that inevitably live in those places. They are infuriating but irresistible, wonderful people.”
Aspiring actors have more opportunities to break into theatre, film and television in New Zealand these days, he says. “I went through the whole ‘are you mad’ scenario when I said what I wanted to do, but now you can make a living from it, and enjoy yourself. “I find being an actor now not too hard, which is nice.”
Parker is well-known to New Zealanders after becoming a household name for his role as Guy Warner on Shortland Street. His other TV credits include Xena: Warrior Princess, Scared Scriptless and Young Hercules. He is also an accomplished theatre actor and recently played Haldir in Peter Jackson’s epic movie Lord of the Rings.
Parker, Wiseman and Thomas join a veritable who’s who of New Zealand actors in Mercy Peak, including Tim Balme, John Leigh, Alison Bruce, Katie Wolfe, Simon Prast and Miriama Smith.
First ‘Mercy Peak’ reveals highs
By TIM WATKIN
[…] Best of all, there’s the slightly sleazy and dorky cop, Ken Wilder, who tries to show off to the city doc by recalling his days in the crime cauldron of West Auckland, and the sweet but rather wet Alistair Kingsley.
Tim Balme and Craig Parker, respectively, put in perfectly judged performances that leave us wanting to get to know their characters better.