Littlewich Ways - by Debbie Bennett

Just over a year ago, I was invited to attend a meeting of our local village drama group. Well - a spin-off meeting anyway, of people who might be interested in branching out into other forms of acting as well as/instead of the plays put on a few times a year by the group.

I'm not an actor. I had vague dreams as a child - as one does - of being on television, on the stage or in Hollywood. They probably came after my dreams of being a dancer on Top of the Pops (yes, I am that old) and before my dreams of being an astronaut or a show-jumper. Or a famous writer? At least I'm working towards that one... I did make a training video at work many years ago - over two days in a deserted college with a real professional BBC actor who probably thought he'd be working with other real professional BBC actors, but instead got me and my colleague who made it up as we went along!

But this meeting in the village was about setting up a group to write, act, record and produce a series of radio plays. Think The Archers but set in a fictional Cheshire village. By this time I'd published several books, and had a go at script-writing (I have a commissioned episode of White Witch, a Dr Who spin-off due out on DVD next year), so I thought why not get involved as a writer?

So Littlewich Ways was born. And it's grown from there. We have maybe 30 characters and a tight-knit little team of script-writers who put these poor people through hell and back when we meet each week in the local pub to story-board ideas. We've got to know the characters - and we all have our favourites. Some of us had written before while others were new to it, but we've all learned as things have progressed. Radio is hard - there are no visual clues, no real action - and you have to define location by sound, and character by speech-pattern (and name-dropping perhaps more than you might do in real life). It's a challenge.

Slight over-acting at this rehearsal. I think maybe they saw the camera!

So a year down the line, we are a couple of dozen episodes in, with four short scenes per episode. We've been in the local paper more than once and had the chief editor helping us with story-boarding. And we've recently started recording. Actors are drama group members, plus other people in the village who have never acted before. Even my husband is involved (On the left in the above picture!) There are no lines to learn, no gallivanting around on a stage, and it's perfect for actors who don't have the time to commit to a series of plays.

As a writer, it's fascinating to see the actors translate a scene to reality. To go to rehearsals and explain what you meant by a line you wrote. To see your words live in other peoples' mouths. I imagine it must be an even bigger thrill to write for stage or screen. It's surprising that when we've spoken to people with media contacts, they all say that nobody has ever done anything like this before. We played our first couple of scenes at the Northwich Literary Festival and people were fascinated.

The trouble with being predominantly a crime writer though, is that I want to kill somebody. I keep saying it's soap - people have to die, but nobody else quite gets it! I'm working on it ...


Dennis Hamley said…
How absolutely brilliant, Debbie. A great. great group project. I wish I had more experience of radio. Back in the early 80s I did some work for BBC Schools radio. They asked me who I would recommend to adapt my first novel, Pageants of Despair, into a 3-part serial, 20 minutes each part. Seduced by the £300 fee as much as misplaced ambition, I foolishly said I'd like to try it myself. Bad move. I was so jealous of my own words that the final recording, which I no longer possess having strategically lost it, consisted of several well-known voices speaking very, very fast.
I've never heard of a group doing this either, but what a brilliant project! I wrote for BBC radio for about twenty five years, did a project almost every year and some of them were very big. (Ben Hur was one of the most complicated!) Don't do it now, and don't really want to go back to it, but have a real affection for the medium. I've never worked on a group project - although to a great extent all drama, radio, theatre etc, involves a collaboration. I reckon it would teach people a huge amount about all aspects of writing. And be great fun as well.
Bill Kirton said…
Brilliant idea, and I bet it's lots of fun. I've done lots of acting and directing as well as writing for stage and radio and the collaborative aspect of it is totally absorbing. I often felt that the final performance(s) were a necessary evil; the real fascination was in how a script developed, became something else in the hands of others, and how the relationships between actors, characters and director evolved. It's one of the best ways of getting to know someone in depth. I think to represent (or 'become') others requires an openness about oneself which can be very revealing.
glitter noir said…
Debbie, you're full of surprises. Great post!
Kathleen Jones said…
This sounds such fun, Debbie! Hope you have great success with it.
Lydia Bennet said…
Great fun Debbie and a fab idea - is there any chance of it being on the radio, perhaps either local bbc radio or if there's a community radio station near you? I loved every moment of my experience with BBC Radio 3 recording my play, more enjoyable than all my stage plays because they are more stressful by miles! Radio is a great medium. I've seen a few staged plays of 'radio' plays, so that's another option.
Lydia Bennet said…
ps I"m sure you can be less clunky than The Archers! though their 'rule of seven' might be useful with a cast of characters that big!
Debbie Bennett said…
We don't have all the cast in every episode. Usually just two or three at most, although there are one or two "pub" and "party" scenes .... And yes, we have community radio who are interested but we'll probably host the files on YouTube and provide links to the local paper and other sites.

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