How we recorded ‘Great Expectations’ as a radio play.

Perhaps you’ve already seen the Storify of our day recording Great Expectations with Cyphers but I wanted to give you a bit more detail about the day.

Kicking off at 9am the production team (Iasha, Andy, me) and director Marcus met in the rehearsal room that was to become our recording studio for the day. We were based in a lovely big room which in itself had lovely acoustics that put a smile on Andy’s face, plus Iasha had provided tea, biscuits and croissants so I knew that we were on to a good thing. However, as was proven more and more throughout the day, Peckham is not a quiet area of London and a professional recording studio this was not. Community Radio drama – I like to think of it as the Fringe theatre of radio.

Andy got us set up with all the wires etc. while Iasha and I made the room as quiet as possible (full marks to Iasha for innovation when muzzling the buzzing from the boiler with an over glove!) and then Marcus and Andy did sound checks and the cast started to arrive.

The recording style was somewhere between a scratch-style staged reading and a formal style you might imagine from old style radio drama from the BBC or may have seen with the Fitzrovia Radio Hour . The cast were mostly script in hand, those who had performed in Cyphers’ stage version keeping a careful eye out for any amends to the script in its new seven part radio incarnation. The performers all stood – unless playing a character who would have been seated or lying down in the scene in question – then basically moved as the mood took them. This seemed to really bring the characters to life, having the scuffles happen mid scene really added the necessary tension, for example, and was much of the time far easier than recording such things separately. I like to think that acting out the scenes a little whilst giving a primarily vocal performance made the experience more enjoyable for a cast with primarily stage experience, but I did feel rather sorry for Rupert who played Pip and was therefore on his feet for the majority of the day! The exception to this recording style was our session with Jeremy, our narrator, but I’ll come to that later.

We jumped around the script, trying to complete the story of each character as early as possible in order to release our wonderful cast as early as we could. We were incredibly grateful to have them on a Sunday and I must say we were slightly grateful to see that it wasn’t the sunniest of summer days so we weren’t preventing them from whiling away the hours in a beer garden!  So we recorded the scenes for which Mrs Joe is required first of all, then switched to the scenes starring Estella and Ms Havisham. As Mrs Joe and Estella were both played by Victoria this meant that rather than switching between the two voices, Victoria could concentrate solely on one performance at a time. However, it is of course very different to how you’d perform a stage production! The cast were rather kept on their toes physically and metaphorically during recording, ho ho.

Much of the day’s recording went like a dream. The atmosphere in the room was good, the cast were brilliant – disciplined and cheerful, a perfect combination. Marcus was on hand to give tonal directions and advice on any necessary movement to add action to the scenes and the odd section had to be recorded again in order to get clear audio or because we were rudely interrupted by a gurgling radiator or siren on a nearby street but generally we threw through the script. We adjusted the time of our lunch break to avoid the chiming of local church bells and finished recording with the main cast about 30 minutes ahead of schedule.

We then recorded the narration. Older Pip gives narration throughout the story, thus it was easiest to have a separate actor and separate recording session for this. We were graced with experienced voice actor Jeremy Drakes, who according to sound guy Andy has a voice “like butter” and I must say I’m inclined to agree. We wanted the narration to have a softer, more intimate tone than the action of the story as Pip is reflecting back on his memories, so changed the physical setup accordingly. Jeremy was seated with the mic very close to his face and this gave the desired tonal effect. Additionally this set up, with Marcus, Iasha and I all sat facing Jeremy in his armchair with his soothing tones, nearly made the recording of the narration like a session of story time, especially as for this session it was most logical to just work through the script in order as there was only one character to focus on. However, this is when the nemesis of the day made itself known – the planes! I know it’s not a popular thing to say during summer holiday season, but we really could have done without the planes for a few hours! We ended up finishing the day at 8.30pm, slightly behind schedule, as a change in the wind direction or flight path meant that almost as soon as Jeremy began we were frequently interrupted by the sound of aircraft passing nearby. But in the end, slow and steady won the race.

Thank you again to everyone who helped out on the day in one form or another. It was a truly excellent day and we can’t wait to share the results of it with you all.

Helen

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