Cleaning Up (STV)


IT is a tough life being an actress. Though Sheridan Smith is still only in her thirties, STV’s new six-part drama Cleaning Up officially heralds the start of her “tabard years”.

The tabard years begin when an actress leaves behind the days of playing lairy youths (in Smith’s case, her Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps period), someone’s glamorous wife (Mrs Biggs), and a national treasure (Cilla), and becomes a middle aged Everywoman under pressure.

Last year, Smith was a hassled single mother trying to care for a mother with dementia in the BBC drama Care. Her wardrobe then consisted of oversized shirts and jeans. In Cleaning Up she is Sam, a harassed single mother on a cleaner’s wage (hence the tabard), with online gambling debts and an ex who wants custody of their daughters.

Created and written by Mark Marlow, Cleaning Up finds the Funny Girl star in a Citizen Smith role, railing against the City stockbrokers she cleans up after. “A bunch of rich guys getting paid to move other rich guys’ money around.”

One night, while hiding behind a desk playing online roulette, she hears a trader walking across the empty office, talking on his phone. He helpfully makes it known he is up to no good by referring to risks and prison time, and even more fortuitously says out loud the name of the company he is being tipped off about. Before you can say, Monty Python style, “Stop this, it’s silly”, Sam has written the firm’s name on her hand and is looking up “insider trading” on Wiki.

As further outrageous coincidence would have it, Sam is good at maths and is about to take in a lodger who can mend stuff – like the dodgy listening device she buys on eBay to find out what the trader is up to next. We know it’s a listening device because it has a dirty great label on it proclaiming the fact.

Sam proceeds to hide the bug in an air conditioning vent. That she has no qualms about standing on a desk to do this suggests she is a cleaner at the only large office in Britain that does not have CCTV. Oh, and did I mention she has a mate, Jess (Jade Anouka) who it just so happens has been left some money by her dad, enough to start buying shares?

Cleaning Up groans under the weight of contrivances, but what will make viewers return next week, despite the plot being as daft as a loo brush, is Smith. Her sparky, funny, and engagingly sly Sam is a pain in the rump who reckons life owes her something. In that, as the heavy-handed script makes clear, she is no different from the City traders she despises, wage packets aside. But her heart is in the right place, innit, and the viewer will take her side against a stockbroker any day. And hey, she can’t half rock that tabard.