Casualty of the Street

By Jacqueline Smith

Next week Shortland Street farewells one of its most notorious characters, in a special 90-minute episode. Jacqueline Smith finds out more.

The feature-long episode spells the demise of Adam Rickitt's character Kieran Mitchell. Photo / Supplied
The feature-long episode spells the demise of Adam Rickitt's character Kieran Mitchell. Photo / Supplied

Adam Rickitt, as anyone who reads the Sunday gossip pages knows, has well and truly moved on from Shortland Street. But his character Kieran Mitchell is still lurking around the 7pm weekday timeslot as the sweet-talking Englishman with the sinister background.

After working on Coronation Street on and off for seven years, Rickitt moved to New Zealand in 2007, and landed the role of Kieran on the local weeknight soap.

Since arriving on Shortland Street, his character has done a good job of keeping his past involvement with Thailand's dodgy prostitution scene under wraps and busying himself with his business, the hospital's local drinking hole, The IV.

Kieran has always found a way of keeping his hands clean - or appearing to. So far he has dodged the repercussions of drug deals, his philandering and even killing Morgan Braithwaite after the hospital's Christmas party last year.

But in recent months, his luck has turned. Sophie McKay divorced him. He was blackmailed. He realised he had very few friends.

And finally, his Thai past will come back to haunt him in Monday's chilling, feature-length episode. It's no secret that this is where Kieran Mitchell takes his final bow.

Shortland Street producer Steven Zanoski says the show was always scheduled to run a 90-minute feature this year, and it just happened to coincide with Kieran's storyline hitting a brick wall and Rickitt wanting to pursue other things.

"I think for that character we would always have had to do something big. He has been larger than life, and has taken the stories on different directions to other characters on Shortland Street. I think part of that was because Kieran didn't have a medical qualification, he wasn't part of the hospital, he formed some of the extended world of Shortland Street as the manager of the bar and he came in with quite a deep, dark back story and that kept playing out on screen in the things he was doing, choices he was making," Zanoski says.

"Being able to tell [Kieran's] story within the context of 90 minutes was a different thing for us. Rather than extending it over a couple of weeks we were able to make quite a satisfying beginning, middle and end within one episode."

Rickitt says he had anticipated his character's demise following the Morgan murder storyline - he believed there was no way Kieran could live with the guilt.

At the same time, Rickitt was itching to get back into his music. Before coming to New Zealand he had a dance pop hit I Breathe Again, which reached number 5 on the British charts in 2000, though the subsequent album didn't quite enjoy the same success. This year, a new record deal coincided with an executive decision to write Kieran out of Shortland Street.

Last month Rickitt left Auckland for London and the exotic party scene of Ibiza - quite a contrast to the last few weeks he spent on Shortland Street trudging through mud and pulling out kickboxing moves on precarious cliff-tops.

In this feature-length episode, one of Kieran's cronies from Thailand arrives seeking retribution. This big blonde villain is played by Matt Sunderland, best known for his role of David Gray, in Out of the Blue. He's quite the perennial bad guy. This week he also appears on TV One's This Is Not My Life as a shady character.

"I do seem to get steered towards the darker roles, but that's just the way the cookie crumbles and I'm quite happy with that," Sunderland says.

Actually he has appeared on Shortland Street in guest roles before, but we probably wouldn't recognise him. "It was such a long time ago, you'd have to be a real aficionado to know. I think at one stage I was a young gay guy and another I was a burglar and another I might have been a murderer," he says.

"I've been out of the loop so it was great to get on board and do my bit - and it's not every day you get [to play] a character called the White Dragon."

It was also not your average soap opera shoot. "It felt like a film because it was all [shot] on location. It felt like quite an atypical storyline, it was very adrenaline-charged," he says.

Gerald Tippett (Harry McNaughton), who is wearing his pyjamas and Nicole Miller (Sally Martin), who is deathly hungover, are also accidentally swept up in the action.

Shortland Street went all out on the body-doubles, costumes, makeup, and lighting for the feature, and also used a bluescreen for the first time in the show's history.

It was a huge logistical undertaking, as filming had take place around the regular weekday episodes, Zanoski explains.

The team compensated for the unusual shooting schedule early in the year and then filmed as much of the feature as they could on location. They had a year to prepare, but Zanoski says if he does it again he will get the ball rolling even earlier.

"While things have worked out very well for us this time, a bit of it has been by the seat of our pants," he says.

Because it's three times the length of a regular episode, the writers had the difficult task of taking stories further than they usually would, while keeping content appropriate for the 7pm timeslot.

"In our initial assemblage of it we felt we had kept it to PGR, but had to take out a little bit of material that might have been slightly on the nose.

"There's a little bit of hostage, little bit of torture - but it's more implied than actually seen," Zanoski says.

"We wanted it to be more action and adventure than having any nasty overtones."

And while the episode is a chance to bid Kieran adieu, it's also a chance to kick off new drama - without giving too much away, one character gets a big surprise and another faces peril.

"The important thing about this episode is that even though it's saying goodbye to the character of Kieran, it's certainly not an ending," Zanoski says.


What: Kieran Mitchell (Adam Rickitt) leaves Shortland Street in a 90-minute episode starring Matt Sunderland.
When and where: Monday, 7pm on TV2.

- NZ Herald

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