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I TALK The Spa

"Female skewing but not alienating men" that's how Director of Sky Living HD Antonia Hurford-Jones described her channel at the press screening for new comedy The Spa.

She also explained how excited she is to have this show on her channel. I've had the pleasure of watching the whole series and in no way did I feel alienated as a male viewer, so fellas, don't be afraid to watch a show on Sky Living HD.The show comes from the team behind hit ITV sitcom Benidorm (Tiger Aspect) and uses the same producer, same writer and even a few appearances from some of the Benidorm cast themselves.

However, The Spa is different but just as funny, if not more openly so. The Spa exposes the different chinks in the Spa's armour often involving new initiatives which involve one or two of the Spa's staff and customers. So what do these characters do and look like then?

Well. Fronted by the brilliant Rebecca Front (no pun intended) The Spa is a bright, colourful feel-good sitcom that draws you in and makes you fall in love with the characters. And what a cast to play those characters including; Tim Healy, Frances Barber, Niky Wardley, Debbie Chazen, Nadine Marshall, Chris Geere, Derren Litten, and Cheryl Fergison, so I guess the characters were never really in any doubt of being loved and appreciated.

Now let's get into the nitty gritty of what the characters are like. Let's start with Alison Crabbe, the manageress of the Spa played by Rebecca Front (Grandma's House, The Thick of It). Described by Executive Producer Ben Cavey as a "loveable monster" Rebecca undergoes somewhat of a makeover for this role donning a blonde wig and a no nonsense attitude that show's she's the boss.

Although... having said that, it doesn't take long to realise that this may not be the job for her as she hates the staff and the customers, oh and she comes across as if she hasn't got a clue what she's doing. But does she care? No, I don't think she does. Can't be arsed I think sums her up nicely.

Rebecca never fails to deliver on a performance and The Spa is no different. Speaking at the screening Rebecca told me how much she loved Alison when she first read the script and found her to be a more interesting female part.

She also mentioned how "Any show with Frances Barber is hilarious." So it seems like it was a no brainer for her to take on this role.

One of my favourite lines in the entire series comes from Alison in Episode 2 where whilst speaking to Sally a woman constantly asks to be pointed towards a cardio lesson. I won't give the punchline away but no matter how many times I see that scene, I still laugh.

Sally, Alison's assistant is played by Niky Wardley, who for me is one of the standout comic characters. She just plays the ditzy receptionist so well, maybe, as she revealed at the screening it's because she actually used to be a receptionist, I doubt of the ditzy variety though.

So what kind of things does she do then? Well, I could be here a while listing everything so here are just a few glimpses into the things she does in the series. She searches the HR folder for 'Eric the Viking', 'forgets about her son' and then there's the name of her son... Mark Owen, which she reckons if you say fast enough sounds foreign! I think you get a clear picture now.

Next we move on to Benidorm regular Tim Healy who in The Spa ditches the skirts and the Geordie and instead puts on an overall and a much softer Lancashire accent for his role as Eric Lofthouse, the spa handyman. Eric has to deal with being rather 'well endowed' and struggles to find a pair of shorts that fits properly much to Alison's annoyance.There's something about Healy's characters and the way he plays them that you can't help but love. His laugh is every inch as infectious as Adele's and although Eric may look like quite a tough guy on the outside, I have a sneaky feeling he's a big softy at heart.

Frances Barber, who needs no introduction plays Ginny who doesn't actually work in the Spa but rather visits her best friend Alison on various occasions. She works on a farm and lives a life that involves a lot of drinking, so much so that she gets through mobile phones like we do hot dinners. Living on a farm, when she does venture into the Spa it's often just to annoy, intefere or get in the way of Alison. Although she did introduce the Spa to Bolek so she can't be all that bad can she?

Now, with upcoming parts in Trollied and This Is Jinsy it's a wonder Debbie Chazen had the time to play Alternative Therapist Davina. In stark contrast to most of the characters, she's calm with a soft voice and a real thirst for new treatments. But in amongst those larger than life characters can she create a calm and peaceful atmosphere? Hmm... perhaps not.

One of her highlights has to be in Episode 2 when she has to deal with a client who, let's just say has bad gas, and resorts to sticking a latex glove over a desk lamp in place of her hand while she stick her head out of the window.

Could there be a bit of romance for Davina? Marcus perhaps, after all, she does like to give him the eye every now and then but is he looking at her or at the bloke behind? Now that would be telling wouldn't it?

Playing her best friend Vron is Nadine Marshall who coincidentally starred alongside Chazen in BBC Three sitcom Smoking Room back in 2004. Her character in The Spa is most definitely NOT one to be messed with. Take her opening scene for example, stood outside the Spa shouting "Pain, does not exist in this Health Club. Fear does not exist in this Health Club" whilst doing star jumps. And that poor guy who realises he's in the wrong class, I reckon he's still getting over the reaction she gave him.

Chris Geere, familiar to all you Waterloo Road fans makes the greatest transformation of the lot of them, as he goes from being British to Polish. Chris transforms into Bolek, a plumber (pronounced plum-ber) who suddenly finds he can turn his hand to cooking and talks his way into becoming the Spa's chef.Whilst the accent can take a while to get used to, two or three episodes in and you forget all about that and the real comedy in his character is allowed to shine through. And believe me, there's a lot to shine through.

Now no sitcom would be complete without a 'will they won't they' relationship. And in The Spa the title goes to Bolek and Sally. Despite some hinting that Bolek may infact like Sally to Sally, she still doesn't get it and no matter how hard he tries himself to hint at her how much he likes her she just does not get it. I don't want to give anything away but this is a true sitcom relationship that carries on throughout the series.

Not content with just writing the series Derren Litten goes back to his acting roots (The Catherine Tate Show) in The Spa as wheelchair bound Personal Fitness Trainer Marcus. Unusually perhaps for a sitcom, the setting of the Spa was actually handed to Derren by Tiger Aspect, the production team behind Benidorm, who then let Derren have full control over who the characters were and what they would do when in the Spa setting.Comparisons between The Spa and The Brittas Empire, which was set in a leisure centre, have inevitably happened yet Derren says "Bizarrely, I;ve never seen an episode." but was aware of the basics - receptionist with a baby in the cupboard being one of them.

So back to Marcus, what is he like? Well, he had an accident at work which has left him in a wheelchair and throughout the series seeking compensation for what happened. This hunger forms part, if not all of the reason why he's still allowed to work at the Spa, and more importantly still wants to.

Every single cast member that I've spoken to have said how much of a delight he was to work with. Rebecca pointed out how Derren is "remarkably unprecious about his script. Laid back and lovely to have around." Whilst Niky Wardley says she didn't think twice about taking the role as it was written by Litten who she calls a "dear friend".

Often reminding me to TOWIE's Nanny Pat, is the Spa's cleaner Rose played by Vilma Hollingbery, but don't let her appearance fool you. Not long into Episode 1 she causes enough Drama to last the whole series and provides plenty of laughs thereafter as the dithering cleaner that quite simply just gets in the way. And finally we have the brilliant Cheryl Fergison (The IT Crowd, EastEnders) who at the press screening described her character to me as a 'bit of a blagger' and is looking forward to shaking the 'Heather from EastEnders' tag she's got at the moment. Her character, Miss Wild, sorry... Mrs Wylde... I mean Ms Wylde, or Big Eater Bergita to use her full name! Believe me, she's quite a character.

So what can we expect from the episodes? Well, if you've seen episode one you'd have seen receptionist Sally refer to Big Eater Wylde as 'A Beast' rather than obese as well as a suicide attempt from unassuming cleaner Rose.

Throughout the rest of the series there's fireworks, awards, a wedding and a special hour long finale that brings out the best in all the characters and leaves us yearning for Series 2. Not forgetting a few cameos along the way including a 'one and only' singer and Watford's finest, Bradley Walsh!

I guess it's inveitable to want to compare it to The Brittas Empire or Benidorm, but as I mentioned earlier this is neither. This is a bright modern sitcom well suited to the Sky Living HD channel with a cast to die for. Great characters, great writing, what more do you want? Not a lot. I predict that there's plenty more for The Spa so while we wait for that all important recommission to be announced, I suggest you sit back, relax and enjoy The Spa.

The Spa continues Thursdays at 9pm on Sky Living


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