A refreshing portrait of Bray and its people, just before Covid-19 struck

TV review: The big-hearted Our Town shows a new side to this corner of Co Wicklow

Some of the young stars of Our Town. Photograph: Arthur Janowsky

Some of the young stars of Our Town. Photograph: Arthur Janowsky

 

Bray has a reputation as an old-fashioned, bucket-and-spade seaside town or, if you’re a League of Ireland supporter, one of the more diverting away days in the calendar (even if the Carlisle Grounds loos were historically a bit of a stygian pit).

But the engaging and big-hearted Our Town (RTÉ Two, 9.30pm) shows a different side to this corner of Co Wicklow as it introduces the viewer to a group of young people in sometimes challenging circumstances yet united by their big dreams.

The mood throughout is optimistic and it is always encouraging to watch a series that doesn’t lean into the cliche of small-town Ireland as a grey place where hope goes to die. Here, there are reams of ambition and a refreshing conviction tomorrow will be better than today.

It is to the credit of RTÉ that it has made a documentary that looks on the bright side rather than wallowing in angst, as was surely the temptation

Gabi is a single mother who holds down a job while studying for her degree in nursing. Regan is a boxer who, encouraged by his father, hopes to one day represent Ireland at the Olympics. CJ and Sammy are rappers with an outlook on life almost as sunny as Bray Promenade on a clear July day. And Dylan is a Bray Wanderers defender back from a stint in the UK with Brighton.

They are all personable and have faced their share of challenges. Indeed, there is enough material here for an hour of unflinching misery. So it is to the credit of RTÉ that it has made a documentary that looks on the bright side rather than wallowing in angst, as was surely the temptation.

Gabi was a victim of a rape aged 17, a horrific event with which she and her family are still coming to terms.

And though in no way comparable to sexual assault, Dylan has suffered professional disappointment, returning to Bray having failed to break through in the UK (Wanderers’ new owners have, at least, sorted out the toilet horror show).

CJ and Sammy, meanwhile, see their hip-hop career stutter when they fail to sell out the local arts centre.

The lesson of this breezy and pleasantly brisk series is that every town in Ireland is full of people with fascinating stories. But though sunny vibrations dominate, Our Town doesn’t pull its punches.

Adrian McCarthy (producer/director), Judy Kelly (director) and Oda O’Carroll (producer) with the participants of Our Town. Photograph: Arthur Janowsky
Adrian McCarthy (producer/director), Judy Kelly (director) and Oda O’Carroll (producer) with the participants of Our Town. Photograph: Arthur Janowsky

Because of the state of the property market, Gabi and her toddler son must, for instance, share cramped accommodation with her mother, her mother’s husband and her sister. “”If you cannot rent somewhere working 40 hours a week, what can you do?” she wonders, not unreasonably.

Our Town spans a year and a half, with the first of three episodes wrapping up at the end of 2019 – those last few innocent months before Covid-19 and the first lockdown.

“I’m sure there’ll be more challenges ahead of us in 2020 – not just on the pitch but off the pitch,” Bray Wanderers owner Niall O’Driscoll says – a statement obviously far more ominous today than when he uttered it. “Life always throws up things.”

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