Free Thinking Festival: 24 Weeks / Marchant

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I spoke to writer Tony Marchant, director Kate Rowland and cast a few hours before Saturday’s performance and recording  of specially commissioned Radio 3 Free Thinking Drama, 24 Weeks. Watch video interview here.

Listen to the drama on the BBC iPlayer here from 1 hour 17 minutes and 30 seconds in. 


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One of the lasting memories of this year’s Free Thinking Festival for me at least will undoubtedly be the time I spent in the company of the production team for Radio 3’s Free Thinking drama “24 Weeks”.

Written by Tony Marchant – his first radio drama – the play tackles the issues surrounding abortion and specifically the 24 week debate. The gritty subject material certainly fits in with Radio 3’s committment to challenging drama but interestingly, this production was to be recorded in front of an audience. What would be the impact of this on the actors and the resulting recording?

The opportunity to sit in on some of the rehearsals proved interesting. I was especially taken by the speed at which the production was put together. The video interviews with Marchant, director Kate Rowland and the cast reveal the almost 36 hour turn around and how the actors were experiencing their first radio drama recording in front of an audience. 

Most striking was the quality of the performances I saw in rehearsal. The play is essentially a two-hander between a married couple – Sarah and Robert. There are various points where raw emotion between the couple powers through as they confront their feelings about Sarah’s pregnancy. 

It was these scenes which prompted an entirely unexpected emotional response in me. Seeing an actor cry on stage in the way that Sean Gallagher (Robert) did during rehearsals resulted in one reaction for me: I cried too. 

The fact that I continued snivelling when the actors finished rehearsing said much for their obvious ability at grappling with the parts. All this after only a day of familiarising themselves with the script.

I did wonder whether my appreciation for the production was skewed because I had access to the production team and cast. It was only when I heard the entire performance back on the radio a night later that I realised my view wasn’t biassed. 

“24 Weeks” was gripping drama and earth-shatteringly executed by it’s stellar cast. OK, so I’m biassed a bit. But I did hear it and I cried that time too.

Me Time

An evening spent consuming a much-needed meal during my weekend at the Free Thinking Festival in Liverpool saw me indulge in a spot of me time. (It feels like it’s been a long time since the last time although in truth it’s only been three weeks or so.) Nothing especially indulgent other than pouring over the Saturday Guardian which had laid unread on my bed all day.

God bless Marina Hyde. After a week of wall to wall Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand, it’s felt like a real relief to hit the weekend and start consuming the longer range coverage and comment this story has inspired. As an employee, it’s been a little surreal. Marina’s piece was one of the more striking ones.

More reassurance to be found in the story on page 16 highlighting the glaring translation error made by Swansea council.

In the Family section (usually dismissed by most) there’s an interesting piece on Storybook Dads. Positive, forward-thinking rehabilitation work.

In the John Lewis catalogue (I’d given up on the Sport, Review and Work section of the paper), I was surprised and ultimately confused to see a fully reversible christmas tree for sale at John Lewis. Why ON EARTH would you want one exactly, unless of course you fear stony silences when people visit your home over the Christmas holidays and you need topics of conversation?

In the Guardian Christmas Books catalogue (no, this blog posting isn’t a blatant attempt to suck-up to the Guardian) I notice a book I’d quite like to receive for myself, one I’d wouldn’t mind giving my sister, one for my brother-in-law and one I will definitely be giving “someone” this holiday.

Oh, and getting on to the Guardian Weekend, I do rather like this aftershave based on the wipe-your-wrist-like-a-lady strip inserted into the magazine.

Free Thinking Festival: Is Privacy Dead?

Is it wrong to be blogging about an event which has been recorded for radio not intended to be broadcast until Monday 3 November at 9.15pm? Am I revealing something I shouldn’t be even though I know it will happen because I sat in a room and listened to a man tell me and one hundred or so other people ?

It’s a question I’m thinking about having come out of a debate at the Free Thinking Festival which posed the question “Is Privacy Dead?”

In an age of online communities, blogging, micro-blogging and picture sharing, I find myself thinking intensely about my personal activities online. It’s scary. I can’t get it out of my head.

What should I reveal about myself? What do I reveal about myself online? Do I reveal too much? Am I revealing my true self or, a convenient skewed image of myself? Should I be more private? Should I reveal more? Would anybody read anything I wrote if I did?

And if it is I have an online persona and a real one (and personally, I would argue that they are one and the same otherwise both pursuits would be absolutely agony day to day) are there times when I don’t want to participate online ? Are there times when my mood, my insecurities and fears curtail my online activities? Thinking about those specific things, should I in fact be more careful about how I conduct myself online in an act of much-needed self-preservation?

Don’t you loathe people who ask too many questions and can’t/won’t/can’t be bothered to provide any answers? Well, the truth I feel the pressure of time on me. There’s no time to answer the questions even if I knew the answers. It’s a fast moving world. The bar here at the Free Thinking Festival is buzzing – the “Speed Date a Thinker” crowd are busy preparing for their hour of fun and there’s a competition going on between me and another other chap sat across from me busily tapping away at his laptop.

What I’m struck by – yet again – is how a relatively brief session listening to the likes of Bill Thompson, psychologist Sonia Livingstone, Cultural Historian Jonathan Sawday and Geoffrey Rosen has set my mind buzzing with excitement.

The most pointed example raised in the hour long debate hosted by Philip Dodd was this. Geoffrey Rosen explained how some students he knew of would take to live-blogging lectures and seminars. Was this a use of technology which was to be welcomed?

The fact is it’s here. We all do it. Those of us who use the internet rely on opportunities like these. There’s a buzz. A desire to provide a personal response to events as we witness them. We want to share where we are at any given moment in time even if the majority of the audience don’t care or would rather prefer it if we didn’t clog up the internet with our ill-considered babble.

The answer is impossible to arrive at. My interviews kick off in around fifteen minutes time and the speed daters are about to start their speed dating session.

I also have to get this blog published as quickly as possible. I have to beat the bloke sitting opposite me. I know he’s blogging about it. I just know. Why would he look so intently at his laptop in the way he does? I must beat him to it. Seeing as he’s Bill Thompson, the need seems inexplicably even greater.  

Disappointingly it appears I’ve failed. Mind you, it might have helped if I’d been a little less verbose.

You can hear the Free Thinking Debate “Is Privacy Dead?” on Monday 3 November at 9.15pm on BBC Radio 3.

Free Thinking Will Self

Will Self has been a genuine surprise. A considerably more learned friend of mine suggested that Self was a master in making most people feel as though they really hadn’t studied enough. I could see what my friend meant.

Self takes dryness to a new level. He’s off the dry-scale. Whenever I’ve seen him on Newsnight Review I’ve never really been sure quite how to take him. In fact, if memory serves me correctly I may possibly have turned to long-suffering partner (from hereonin referred to merely as LSP) and said “The man doesn’t like anything, does he?”. I had this assessment in my head when I went along (almost too late) to the opening lecture in this year’s Free Thinking Festival at the Bluecoat, Liverpool on Friday 31 October.

I was, of course, being a fool. In his lecture, Self deftly illustrated the striking the differences between the thoughts we read about in our favourite novels and the reality of our own day to day thoughts. In so doing he skilfully demonstrated his mastery at the English language and why he is the successful novellist and literary anti-celebrity he is. Oh, and I almost forgot, he made me laugh like a queen too.

There’s something special about the Free Thinking Festival. It’s almost impossible to put my finger on. It’s something to do with the location and the fact that I feel as though for the rest of the year I’m starved of the kind of intelligent feeding of the kind there is on offer during this all-too-short weekend.

At first I reckoned referring to what struck me as the mere simple and possibly middle-aged pleasure of sitting and listening to a speaker read out his thoughts in front of an audience as something of an indulgence. 

Now, having listened to the same lecture back a second time during the relayed broadcast on Radio 3, it feels more accurate to refer to these events as a treat. Hearing and seeing someone speak makes for a personal experience. It’s something we just don’t get very much of. Or, at least, it’s something I don’t do enough of.

Self’s appearance this evening has changed my views about him. Not only that, but the criteria he’s using to judge whether his contribution to this year’s festival has been a success or not presents me with an interesting challenge.

Does his illustration of what the reality of human thought is make the likes of Jane Austen’s naturalism nothing but therapy for the reader? I can’t wait to pick up a copy and see for myself. Well done Self.

Will Self’s opening lecture in this year’s Free Thinking Festival is avalailable for the next seven days on BBC iPlayer or via /programmes. Go listen.

Up to Liverpool

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I’d made a mistake. It wasn’t a four and a half hour journey from London to Liverpool. It was in fact two and a half hours. Not only that, the thought of upgrading to first class was quickly dismissed when a very smart looking attendant standing outside the train advised me that no, on weekdays upgrades to first class were in fact £130 and not £18. I shuffled off feeling a little disappointed.

During the journey there was time to get some footage together for a short clip. Not having a cameraman makes the process more time consuming but still a challenging kind of fun. I’m nearly always surprised about how many more cutaways I need to break up the script. This usually means looking for different ways of shooting what might otherwise be regarded as a fairly dull interior. Bear in mind that rapid moving subjects don’t translate well on the web and very quickly the options are fewer and fewer.

Still, if there’s one thing I’m rather relieved about it’s the brevity of the thing. The Proms videos were over five minutes long nearly every time. Short form content is all about the piece being as short as it possibly can be. For someone who rather likes the sound of his own voice, such a demand can sometimes be a little difficult to meet.

Read up on the opening lecture given by Will Self at the 2008 Free Thinking Festival.