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“The Gathering’s” Sadie Soverall: “Complex Parent-Child Dynamics Aren’t Sugarcoated”

"The Gathering's" Sadie Soverall: "Complex Parent-Child Dynamics Aren't Sugarcoated"

As I was watching “The Gathering,” I was instantly reminded of the hit noughties teen drama series “Skins” due to the deliciously layered characters and authentic storytelling — and the actors agree. “I loved ‘Skins’, growing up,” says Eva Morgan over Zoom. In her professional acting debut Morgan is at the heart of the story playing Kelly, a gifted gymnast who is straddling two worlds as she’s also part of a free-running gang. Starring alongside Morgan is “Saltburn’s” Sadie Soverall, playing Kelly’s frenemy and fellow elite gymnast, Jessica. “At the core of this story is two young girls navigating teenage years friendships, relationships and finding themselves,” Soverall says.

The binge-worthy unconventional Channel 4 teen drama is produced by the team behind “Line of Duty” and “Bodyguard”, and opens with a brutal attack. The story then jumps back six months to explore the chain of events that led up to it. There are five central teenagers, including Kelly and Jessica, and they all come from very different backgrounds socially, economically and culturally — but they’re all connected.

What sets “The Gathering” apart is how deeply they peel back the layers of not only these teenagers but the issue of toxic parents who impose their agendas and problems on their children. Throughout the show, the complexities surrounding the theme of control are prevalent; the parents are trying to enforce extreme versions of it whereas the teenagers are trying to break free from it. This is highlighted through characters like Jessica’s mum Natalie (played by Vinette Robinson) who cheats, lies and meddles in her daughter’s elite gymnastic career in order to push her to the top.

“In some ways I think Natalie is living through Jessica and she’s under a lot of pressure from the adults in her life,” Sovall tells PS UK. “Jess has grown up very privileged and Natalie has fought for absolutely everything for her and built this ‘amazing’ life for her. Natalie doesn’t come from the same beginnings so I think a part of her is quite frustrated and desperate for success.”

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Whereas Kelly comes from a working-class background and has had a more difficult upbringing. After losing her mum, her dad, Paul and younger brother are just trying to scrape by each day — but Kelly’s gymnastic dreams could change their lives. “Kelly’s very protective because she has a fear of losing people. She might not come from much financially and I think her dad Paul is a wonderful parent but just shows his love in different ways. When it comes to her gymnastics, she doesn’t want to let anyone down.”

There is also an underlying element of stereotyping and judgement towards Kelly. Morgan says: “I think maybe there is also this lingering doubt or perception that stems from others who don’t believe that Kelly is capable of making it in elite sports because of her background. In the show, Jessica has a line, ‘Elite sports doesn’t care where you come from’ and it’s so true. Both the young girls have a talent. However, sometimes that joy can be taken out of it because of pressures and responsibilities.”

"The Gathering's" Sadie Soverall: "Complex Parent-Child Dynamics Aren't Sugarcoated"

From the outside, it would seem that Jessica has everything but really her mum is so detached and doing all she can to control every outcome, that it leaves Jessica empty and seeking love and family. Soverall says:” Kelly has things that money can’t buy. There were two shots in the show that were really well placed together; in one it was Jessica’s house and she’s in this big house but she’s all alone for the night because Natalie’s out. Then there is the contrast to this beautiful warm family in a smaller house, and it’s Kelly’s.” Watching the scene, the contrast really is powerful. “I think Jess is a very lonely person in a lot of ways,” Soverall explains. “Kelly’s also got things that you just can’t force out of a child; this phenomenal talent, incredible charisma and these beautiful friends who love her for who she is. Jess has all these materialistic things but I think a lot of the things that you need in your soul; the beautiful, warm things in life she’s kind of lacking.”

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The easy accessibility of the internet has only exacerbated a number of issues and risks for teenagers today, from cyber bullying to leaked nudes. But one of the other main topics “The Gathering” explores is the changing dynamic the internet or the ‘smartphone era’ has created between parents and their children. The show’s writer Helen Walsh says: “The series looks at the rise of toxic parenting, looking at that desire to optimise your children, creating exceptional kids that excel at sports, academia and music.”

She explains that the drama series also touches on the idea of celebrity culture and how this has shifted our world: “I think the rise of social media, and particularly ‘Insta culture’, has created this dangerous collective idea where it’s not okay for kids to be ordinary. It’s no surprise then that our kids have never been so unhappy. It’s like we’ve all been duped into this idea that if our kids go hard enough, put in enough hours, if they post enough content or they get into the right academies they’ll be rewarded with success, fame or money. So, the spectre of failure looms heavy.”

As I was getting further into the series, a saying came to mind: “Remember, this is your parents’ first time living to” — but for outrageously controlling characters like Natalie, is there a fine line? Sovall believes the show does a good job in exploring this idea: “I’d say what is wonderful about the show is that there are multiple parent-child dynamics where they don’t sugarcoat anything or gloss over anything – it is very true and real. These teenagers are getting to that point in life where they are realising my mum or my caregiver is a person, they’re not this superhero. Jess is also exploring where she can push back and how she can rebel against certain things. There is a realisation where she thinks ‘Ok, what if I don’t want the life that you’ve written for me?'”

The Gathering begins on Tuesday May 14 on Channel 4.

Aaliyah Harry (she/her) is the associate editor at POPSUGAR UK. She writes extensively across lifestyle, culture and beauty. Aaliyah also has a deep passion for telling stories and giving voice to the voiceless. Previously, she has contributed to Refinery29, Grazia UK and The Voice Newspaper.