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Irish Independent
Irish Independent
Meg Walters

Dreamland review: Sharon Horgan’s daring new female-centric comedy starring Lily Allen has real edge

(From left) Gabby Best as Clare, Aimee-Ffion Edwards as Leila, Lily Allen as Mel and Freema Agyeman as Trish in 'Dreamland'. Photo: Sky

Sky's new comedy Dreamland is the latest offering from Sharon Horgan and Clelia Mountford, the team behind Motherland and Bad Sisters.

Like their previous work, Dreamland is a comedy with hidden depth. Behind its sharp humour and incisive social commentary lies a daring exploration of the female experience in contemporary Britain.

The show centres around three generations of women in a working-class family, as they grapple with complex family dynamics, motherhood, racism, and gentrification. But, to understand these women, we have to understand the place they come from.

As the title suggests, the show is as much about setting as it is about individuals. In the opening moments, we are introduced to a very specific "dreamland" – the seaside town of Margate.

We open on a coach. A moody Mel (Lily Allen) is gazing broodily out of the window. Suddenly, the bus comes to halt. "Where are we?" she asks sleepily. "You're in Margate, babes!" comes the reply from a manic girl grinning directly into the screen.

Then, the Margate pleasure seekers descend upon the seaside town. There's a hen do, complete with plastic pink prosecco glasses, sexy nurse outfits and giant blow-up dildos.

There's a giddy, topless middle-aged man wearing a huge inflatable donut and waving his shirt in the air as though he was at a football match. And then there's Mel, dressed head to toe in black, looking like she'd rather be anywhere but here.

Margate, the show seems to say, is a town defined by contrast. It's a place of bold, garish parties and moody locals, of brightly-lit boardwalks and rundown council estates.

At first glance, everything is candy-coloured and sun-kissed – but look a little closer and this dreamland is also a little weathered, a little edgier than it initially seems.

Frances Barber and Lily Allen play mother and daughter in the new comedy. Photo: Sky

Mel has been living in Paris and has returned to her family home on a council estate in Margate. We meet her nan (Sheila Reid), a town legend set to receive a "Hero of Margate" award next week. 

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We are introduced to Mel's mother, Cheryl (Frances Barber), who is having a secret relationship with another woman. 

There are also Mel’s three sisters: Trish (Freema Agyeman), Clare (Gabby Best, also a writer on the show), and Leila (Aimee-Ffion Edwards).

Gabby Best and Lily Allen in 'Dreamland', which is set in the English seaside town of Margate. Photo: Sky

It soon turns out that Mel has arrived on the same day as Trish's baby shower. She is expecting her third child and is convinced it will be a girl – so, naturally, she has thrown an aggressively pink party, complete with a menu of pink chicken drumsticks and pink potatoes and endless fuchsia decorations.

It is, in a nutshell, a highly enjoyable skewering of the gaudiness of modern hun culture.

When Mel crashes the party, with a can of beer in her hand and a cigarette tucked behind her ear, long-standing familial tensions rise to the surface.

"Wow, being a hot mess is very 2019," Trish tells her with a smirk.

"Yeah, well being a bitch is timeless, so lucky for you," Mel slurs back.

Mel returns from Paris to her hometown of Margate to find a family party in full swing. Photo: Sky

Things threaten to become even more complicated when Mel discovers she is also unexpectedly pregnant, setting us up for what is sure to be an interesting examination of both motherhood and sisterhood set against a backdrop of contemporary working-class Britain.

In her first television role, Lily Allen is a standout, giving a nuanced, heartfelt turn as the jaded and callous Mel.

In a show filled with delightfully heightened characters and performances, Allen grounds us with her pitch-perfect sense of reality.

Ultimately, Dreamland is a candy-coloured comedy with daring emotional and intellectual depth. It's a smart, crisp show with well-observed humour and strong performances that bring caricatures to life in multi-dimensional detail.

As much as it pokes fun at the garish, slightly rundown Margate, it shows us how it is, in many ways, also something of a dreamland for those who have always called it home.

Dreamland premieres in April 2023 on Sky Comedy.

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