In The A Word, episode 3, speech and language therapist Maggie shines a light on the problems in the Hughes family and shows an unpleasant truth about mum Alison.
Following on from Nicola’s former lover Michael’s referral for a speech and language therapist to assess little Joe in last week’s episode, Maggie White, who went to school with mum Alison, arrives and throws a glaring light on the many anxieties, problems and dysfunctions in Joe’s family.
Getting the family to play a game of Ping-Pong and using the Ping-Pong metaphor as a way for the family to understand how to open effective communication channels with Joe, Maggie forces Alison to face her own behaviour and its impact on her son; that she overwhelms him. But far from this being the start to a harmonious bringing-together of the family in order to help Joe, this is merely a catalyst for Alison to become even more unreasonable than she’s been so far, which is pretty unreasonable.
Once again, Alison takes decisions without consulting anyone else and, believing that Maggie is a miracle worker, insists that the family employs Maggie to help Joe, despite Maggie telling her she’s only there to assess Joe and husband Paul’s worries about money.
Perhaps Alison is her father’s daughter as Maurice decides, again without consulting anyone else, to sell the brewery that son Eddie currently has plans for, and to buy Paul’s gastro pub in order to pay for Maggie’s support, even though Paul doesn’t really want to sell the pub and Maggie doesn’t want to provide any further support! It’s no wonder these people are not able to communicate with a fix-year-old diagnosed with autism.
With all of the angst in the family, it’s no wonder that Maurice’s other significant decision is to re-consider the offer of rumpy-pumpy from music teacher, Louise. Interrupting her mid-ukulele lesson, Maurice is sent straight up to the bedroom with not a moment’s messing from Louise. Their post-coital discussion about middle-age sex and Maurice’s subsequent visit to the GP for some, erm, ‘help’ in the bedroom are a cringe-worthy delight and further proof that these two need their own spin-off show.
With everyone around her dealing with their own problems, Alison’s teenage daughter Rebecca’s abandonment and isolation continues. Unseen and unheard by her mum and dad as she prepares for her lead role in her school play, Rebecca seeks refuge with lovely uncle Eddie and the fabulously frank Nicola.
And what about the little boy at the centre of the family? Once again, it’s Rebecca and family friend Maya, who have no anxieties over Joe, who have the easiest relationships with him. Rebecca is able to get Joe to eat breakfast, where Alison has failed, and she Ping-Pongs lines from Antigone with him (before Alison intervenes). Similarly, Maya is happy to sit unselfconsciously up a tree with Joe having got him to touch fingers (Joe’s equivalent of holding hands) to cross the road from school safely. If only Alison, could watch these two and learn.
Dad Paul, on the other hand, seems eager to learn and takes Maggie’s tale about the dad of an autistic boy who stood on a ladder every night in order to get his son to eat, to heart. Even though no-one else knows the story and everyone he mentions it to clearly thinks he’s crackers, Paul is determined not to be the dad up the ladder with his own child.
The episode culminates in Rebecca’s school play, in which she does a brilliant job while all around her is awfulness. Joe is not able to sit nicely for such a long time, dad Paul turns up late and Alison turns up after the final curtain having tried, and failed, to harangue Maggie into helping her. How poor Rebecca has managed to be so relatively normal with this family (and this mother) is a mystery. Less of a mystery is her reason for walking out on her family to go to boyfriend Luke and a sexual relationship she’s clearly not ready for.
We can only hope she doesn’t end up as messed up as the rest of her family as we reach the half-point in this heart-wrenching family drama.
Written by Peter Bowker, Director Peter Cattaneo, Producer Marcus Wilson
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