Me & pointing-pencil record The Verb

Back in August I got a call about a special edition of BBC Radio 3’s The Verb being recorded at the ARC in Stockton. ‘Do you have anything you’re working on at the moment that might be suitable for us?’, asked Producer Erin. ‘Yes’ I replied, ‘absolutely’. And thus I was booked as a guest. 

Let’s get one thing straight before I continue, ‘lying’ is a very strong word. But my ‘yes absolutely’ may possibly have given an impression that wasn’t entirely accurate. I had nothing written down, but thinking … I was way ahead in that department!

For a while I had been harbouring an idea about a hoader and her relationship with a woman who has lost her home and family in a house fire (cheery, eh). A woman with everything and a woman with nothing – how they might be the solution to each others problems.

For a longer while I have been skirting around the idea of writing a solo show that I would also perform. Recent projects like Come To Where I’m From and my first appearance on The Verb with Yackety Yak have made me realise that maybe this isn’t such an impossible dream.

During rehearsals for Poppyfield I broached the idea with director Rosie Kellagher, to see if she’d be interested in coming aboard. ‘Written by and starring’ is veering far enough in to Kenneth Branagh territory without adding ‘and directed by’ to the list. Another perspective would be an absolute must.

If anything, the call from The Verb simply spurred me in to action. Writing the solo show must, for now, run alongside my other projects when I have the time to spare. Of course, the risk is that nothing ever gets done. But this gave me a reason to get started and a deadline – there’s nothing more motivating than the thought of debuting your new work on national radio!

The recording was on Wednesday at the ARC. A couple of days before Rosie and I spent some time working on my performance – our relationship to this point has been director/writer so it was a bit weird being directed by her as an actor. But once I got over my self-consciousness, it was a productive session. And it turns out I was able to perform better when I had a pencil in my hand that I was able to point for emphasis. Of course, pointing-pencil will be lost on the listener but it became indispensable. It went AWOL, briefly, on Tuesday but turned up again in time for the show – phew.

The night itself was very enjoyable. Ian McMillan is a great host and got the crowd on side straight away. The show was recorded ‘as live’ and I think sitting on a stage, having an audience there to perform to, really helped – the ‘look-at-me’ show-off part of me kicked in and kept any crippling nerves at bay. I was more anxious for the interview part than the performance, and while I can’t now remember any of my answers I know there was no repeat of the ‘as’twere’ debacle from last time!

The show is broadcast tonight at 10pm on BBC Radio 3. Do tune in if you can, or you can Listen Again on iPlayer until 28th … x

  • In other news … Ian McMillan was kind enough to ask me about my BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Play Dolly Would during my Verb interview. Bat-eared listeners (surely the aural equivalent to eagle-eyed viewers) will hear that the broadcast date is confirmed as Wed 4 Jan @ 2.15pm.
  • In other other news … rehearsals are well underway for When It Falls, my contribution to Forward Theatre Project’s forthcoming Scratch My City event at the Soho Theatre, London on Sunday. Starring Esther Smith (most recently seen in the critically acclaimed Many Moons at Theatre503) and directed by Jacqui Honess-Martin, the play is inspired by designs by Left Luggage Theatre. Click [here] for more details and how to book.


Being on the radio is fun.

I say ‘fun’, providing you are able to block out the ridiculous ramblings you come out with when asked perfectly straight forward questions; can forget the fact that you said “ambiguous” approx. 56 times and are able to move past using the phrase “as’twere”. Yup, “as’twere” … not “as it were” like a normal person, but “as frickin ’twere”. Who do I think I am, a bargain-basement Russell Brand with my Victoriana English? As soon as the hideous phrase fell out my mouth I wanted to immediately recall it and/or have the ground swallow me up, but of course the conversation carried on and it’s forever recorded – now only at the mercy of the Editor. Please God let her cut it out.  

In case you’re lagging behind here, I was in that there London this week recording a slot on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb. I was delighted to be invited on the programme and excited to meet the other guests – an eclectic mix of cellist Steven Isslerlis, novelist David Vann and storyteller Rachel Rose Reid. Most of all, though, I was terrified of saying something stupid. Like “as’twere”. I kept telling myself over and over that it wasn’t live so, really, what was the worst that could happen? (*hollow laughter*) But then, Editors can only work with what they’ve got – and if all you give them are endless “ambiguouses” then they are limited in what they can achieve.

On the plus, the reading of Yackety Yak seemed to go well. And really, that is what I was there for. I’m all about the work, dah-ling. At first I was so nervous (all the guests recorded together and I was last – ie, plenty of time to get panicked) that I kept tripping over the words and having to stop and go back a few lines. But I warmed in to it, and Ian, David and Rachel Rose were very generous in their laughter which really helped. (Please don’t think Steven just sat there stony faced, he had left by this point for another appointment).

Going into BBC Broadcasting House was ever so slightly thrill-tastic. I walked round the building twice before venturing inside. I am not quite sure why given you don’t have to be a guest on a BBC radio programme to walk round the building, but I did. And I took some photos outside. I got issued with a Visitor Pass which I was going to try and steal but the security guard looked like he didn’t take no messing, so I dutifully returned it on leaving. I wanted to take a photo in the Studio but thought that might seem a bit tragic, like I don’t spend every day recording my play for national radio, so my camera stayed in my bag. The show’s presenter is Ian McMillan – a lovely man who put everyone at their ease in seconds – and all the team were welcoming. And there were sandwiches, and brownies. And fruit. (I had a banana to look vaguely healthy, but rest assured my eyes never left the brownies.)

I haven’t heard the final programme. It is on tonight, 9.15pm on BBC Radio 3 and then available on iPlayer until Fri 4 Feb … click [here] to listen. I am not sure what to do for the best – listen to it as broadcast or wait. Maybe I won’t listen to it at all (disclaimer: I will). I’ll see how my nerves are holding up as the evening progresses. As’twere.

I’ve always said I’ve got a face for radio

Remember me?

I have been very remiss in my website-ness of late, for which I can only apologise. My reasons are few and honest

  1. I have been very busy
  2. Due to the improved TV signal in my new house my magic Freeview box is back able to record all my favourite telly programmes

Anywoo, on with the news … 

No sooner had I written in my New Year round-up that one of my 2011 aims is to “make further headway into radio drama” then a producer from BBC Radio 3 was on the phone I was invited to appear on The Verb.  Maybe next year I should write “win the Lottery” and see if lightning strikes twice?! So, I’ll be reading my play Yackety Yak on the airwaves. Yes, I WILL be reading it … me, myself … yowzah! I am heading down to Broadcasting House next week to record the programme with presenter Mr Ian McMillan and it’s being broadcast on Friday 28 January @ 9.15pm.

My brand new shiny monologue CLINT will be unveiled at Live Theatre on Thursday 3 March. It’s part of a night called Boys on the Edge – one-man plays about boys of the cusp of adulthood. It follows on from the success of ‘Girls on the Verge’ last year and also features new works by Bridget Deane and Laura Lindow.

I was a bit nervous about writing for this one, I’ve not written a lot of male characters and certainly not teenage boys. But, set me a challenge and I’ll do my damndest and I have to say I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I found it difficult to get started, but once I found Clyde’s ‘voice’ he became a joy to write. We’re at the rehearsal draft stage with it so I don’t want to say too much, but suffice to say it’s a bit of a crazy-ass concept and quite possibly goes down some of the darkest roads I’ve ever traversed.

Thrillingly, Boys on the Edge is already sold-out. It sold out so fast I didn’t even have a ticket. But, if any seats are released or extra performances added I will let you know. (**UPDATE 25/1/11 – second date added, Fri 4 Mar @ 8pm **)

 Past Glories; Day 181: It might seem to have gone quiet on this front but it hasn’t … but the things that are happening are things out of my hands. Namely, auditions have been held and casting is imminent. So, soon there will be actors attached to the characters – I can’t wait. Draft #2 was met with approval so will be the draft going in to rehearsals, but I’ll be there for further re-writes. You get to a point when you need to start hearing it and seeing it to know where and what needs cutting and changing.  Rehearsals start in mid-Feb and I’m looking forward to this next stage with it – I enjoy collaborating with actors and the director, seeing the play bed in with the team and grow and develop.

That’s about the size of it. The Tobacco double-bill is selling well at Northern Stage next month, but there are still tickets available so do come along if you can.

Toodle-pip for now … xx

“I heard it on my radio …”

The Sage @ early o'clock

The Sage @ early o'clock

I’ll tell you what, it’s been a fair while since I saw 7am. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my share of early mornings (back when I worked full time 7am would have been considered a lie-in) but as I say, it’s been a fair while. So, up-and-at-‘em bright and early, off to The Sage Gateshead to see the recording of my mini radio drama Worn Around The Edges.

The morning did not get off to the best start, due to me misjudging how long a walk it was from my house. I’ve lived there a few months now so you’d think the fairly regular occurrence of going in to the city centre wouldn’t be a problem any more. It is. So it was a brisk walk, culminating in me hauling myself, puffing and panting, up the fifteen million (approx.) stairs up to the Sage. I was only a tiny-bit off 9am sharp, not the last to arrive, so there was time for a rejuvenating glass of tap water (pushing the boat out there, finance wise).

Introductions done, myself, director Faith Collingwood; the actors Barbara Johnson and Chloe Cornish sat down for a script read-through. It read well, I thought, and I was able to answer the couple of questions they had for me (phew). With only an hour to rehearse and record, we pushed on quick smart and headed outside to the location – the stairs leading up to the Sage.

I carried Faith’s bag (she needed her hands free to operate the recording equipment) and held a clipboard. I always enjoy a bit of clipboard holding, it makes me feel official. The actors got a potted lesson in microphone management/etiquette and off we went in to a rehearsal.

Unfortunately the elements were against us. It wasn’t the loud drone of drilling work across the river that finished us off, nor was it the tilting of the Millennium Bridge which is heralded by much alarm sounding and tannoy announcing. No. It was the wind. The bloody whistling, wailing and altogether too noisy, perishingly cold wind. These stairs were out. Too exposed.

Millennium Bridge:does nothing quietly

The Millennium Bridge: does nothing quietly

A voice piped up that there was a car park round the corner – its stairwell would be more sheltered from the elements. Off we went. Once on the top couple of flights, it seemed we’d hit the jackpot. Much quieter. Quieter, that is, until Mr Sweep McSweeper came along with his broom and proceeded to very methodically, and loudly, sweep every stair from the top to the bottom. I’m glad he was a conscientious worker, I am, but there was a crafty glint in his eye. He knew. Forget your tidy steps, mate, this is my BBC Radio 3 debut. Priorities!

Anyway, car park stairwell glistening, Sweepy swept himself off and we started again. A rehearsal then a take. With it being recorded outside, the general public were always going to be a factor. We were quite lucky that only a couple of people came down the stairs while they were recording, and Faith assures me this will sound good – after all, the characters are meant to be sitting on a public stairwell. So thank you man-with-jangly-keys, for your cameo appearance!

So. That was that. Done and dusted (kippers and custard). The word is the nine plays recorded today will be available to listen online by early next week.

I don’t have much experience with radio writing, and have certainly never seen anything be recorded. It was fascinating to watch and to get some idea of how they create atmosphere, change of mood, all with a move of the mic. I’ve always been a bit scared of writing for radio, I find the lack of visual very hard to get my head round, but hopefully this is a step in the right direction.

Thank you to the organiser, Abigail; director, Faith; and to Barbara and Chloe for their work and for braving the cold.

I hope it turns out ok …