When I arrived at The SoundHouse, it was by no means the first time I had been in a recording studio, but it was the first time I had been in a studio to record drama.
I had been forewarned by friends who are experienced writers of radio scripts that if the play was timed by the production co-ordinator at less than 43 minutes, that I would have to write some more dialogue, on the spot. I did not have time to worry about this prospect, because the cast had all arrived before me. They wanted to know how many radio plays I had written, before. They were surprised to hear the answer, ‘none’.
We started promptly, and Clive Brill, the producer, got everybody except Jerry, the sound engineer, into the studio, for a read-round. I give several live performances a year, and I never get nervous, but, as the read-round began, I was more anxious than I had been during any writing project. I had read the script out loud to myself (I try whenever possible to compose what I write, out loud) but this was the first time it had been read out loud by other people. I wanted to know if it would stand up. I wanted to know if the cast would believe in it. After about 10 minutes, people began laughing, but in all the right places. As the action of the play became more frenetic, I stopped worrying, because I was too busy listening, and too absorbed in observing how the actors were taking to the script.
Joanne Ryan, the production co-ordinator, had a stopwatch. The read-round came in at 42:30 – exactly right.
I took up my position in the outside part of the studio, and the recording began.
The actors went in and out of the studio. The production co-ordinator decided who performed, next, and for how long. The sound engineer captured the performance. The producer decided whether it was right. The writer said, “Yes, fine. Let’s go with that.”
I was staggered by the casting. All six actors exceeded my expectations, and the result of the read-round demonstrated that the collective cast was greater than the sum of its parts.
At some point, the producer asked me if I wanted a cameo role in the play. I turned it down, on the grounds that the cast had already demonstrated their outright ability to fulfil every part. What could I contribute? Nothing. There are times when white blokes from middle class backgrounds should simply stand aside, and leave experienced, trained professionals to do their job.
I have since been told by two members of the cast that I would have been brilliant. Be that as it may.
I was struck by certain differences between my day job, in the IT industry, and what happens in a radio drama recording studio.
In the IT industry, once a meeting descends into banter, that is probably it. You might as well go and make a cup of tea, or work on something else. It is unlikely that the meeting is going to recover, if, indeed, it ever had a reason to exist in the first place.
In a radio drama recording studio, you get 30 seconds of banter, followed by 90 seconds of work, or 90 seconds of banter, followed by 5 minutes of work. The quality of the banter is also of a much higher quality than I am used to.
Another difference is to do with people’s roles.
Anybody can suggest an improvement to the next line. Nobody says, “You’re just the production co-ordinator: it is not your job to suggest improvements to the next line.”
The most important stage in this journey was the adaptation of the story contained in the novella, into a radio drama script.
Michael Stewart was the architect of the project which resulted in the publication of the novella.
Mike Harris gave me invaluable help with the adaptation and taught me the basic techniques of writing radio drama, starting with inter-cutting.
The amount of work that other people have put into ‘Escape Kit’, plus the amount of work that I put into it at other people’s behest, meant that it was always going to be a ‘not for the want of trying’ production.
The only person who has moaned about it, so far, is a curmudgeonly Yorkshire performer who admits that she doesn’t ‘get’ radio drama.
Now, I have to write proposals.
(......Many thanks to William for writing this - Ed.)
The play was broadcast on 5 Nov 2019, R4, 1415.