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PlacePrints: When theatre meets podcast...

What if you could hear the voice of the coronavirus? What it was thinking? Hear how it was enjoying its sick spread and killing?

Take the time to step back in history, via a brand new fictionalised podcast series, including one episode telling the true story of the plague of Eyam in the 17th century…

'Here We Stay' is a short story written over a decade ago by visionary writer David Rudkin. It's based upon a true tale of the past but upon its release…is terrifyingly similar to present day fears amongst a global pandemic.

In this 10 part podcast series by New Perspectives, this particular episode hears a stellar cast read aloud the names of Eyam’s dead.

Exposed wearing your headphones, you want the names to stop but they can’t, and they don’t…

As a listener, we feel we must keep listening, mostly because we want to know how it’s going to end - because in some strange way it's strikingly comparable to the current coronavirus lockdown.

Listen closer, and you hear how the characters are wearing vinegar masks to ward off the disease. Church congregations are 'socially-distancing' to stop the spread amongst the poorest in society.

Each of them fear themselves “an angel of death”, never knowing whether they’re asymptomatic and contagious.

And then as the episode continues, the deaths begin to slow…Eventually a third of Eyam’s population dies from the plague. The town manages to contain the spread. Or is it, because they are ostracised from the rest of the country? Their reputation scarred forever in history?

This episode is just one of ten haunting audio stories as part of New Perspective’s first podcast series: PlacePrints.

From the voice of a lonely church, to why a teenage girl walked 25 miles barefoot across Snowdonia to buy her own Welsh bible, to the Scottish woman drowned at sea for refusing to swear allegiance to the English crown…

This series plays with perception, with time, with history and reality. It makes you curious to visit these places, to find out more, to discover what is truth…and whatis fictionalised.

But more interestingly, this was never meant to be a podcast series.

It was meant to be a stage show.

What Happens When Theatremakers Become Podcasters...

Jack McNamara first stumbled upon David Rudkin's 'PlacePrints' in 2014.

Since then, by working with curator Gareth Evans as a touring theatre director, these pieces were trialled on stage, and even in front of cinema audiences.

But none of them felt like the work had found its 'home'.

Until today, as a 10 part podcast and accompanying film series.

The stories come alive with an incredible line up including Juliet Stevenson, Toby Jones, Josie Lawrence, Michael Pennington and Stephen Rea, among many others.

Employing such a cast for a moving tour would be almost impossible. But as pre-recorded audio performances - the opportunity of podcasting opened the door for the team to think bigger and bolder than they’d ever done with this project before.

Geographically, the series is an enlightening journey across the British Isles with a dramatic audio cycle that transforms your sense of the landscape around you.

Award-winning filmmaker Grant Gee travelled to each of the locations that had originally inspired Rudkin. It resulted in an accompanying photo essay film series.

Aurally, what sets the ambition aside from ordinary theatre monologues is the colour and blending of sound designer Adam McCready.

The attention to detail is noticeable. From the distant call of lapwings in the Peak District to the running streams and waves of the nearby lakes…

Each actor is connected to David Rudkin’s past - someone he’s written for before, collaborated with in the past or simply - are friends of friends.

How It Was Made Possible

Let’s be clear this wasn’t a knee jerk reaction amidst the coronavirus crisis. This project has taken almost a year to create.

I was first introduced to Jack and the NP team a year ago via the digital commissioning agency The Space, as a commissioned consultant to support them with structuring, scheduling and budgeting of creating such a series.

Initially the idea was for us to find a way of hosting the stories digitally, to allow the team to form a digital footprint for their content online. And allow their material to live beyond the life of a single tour, to be shared, accessed and experienced by all - not just those able to walk to, see or hear a theatre show.

A podcast series wasn't originally on the cards, but with the initial seed of an idea sown by Rob Lindsay, Associate Producer at The Space - we began exploring the possibilities of how an audio series could work.

And so we took to listening to hundreds of radio dramas, fictionalised and true crime podcast series. Many of them were American, as in the UK there were - and still are - very few great drama podcasts available to set the expected template and agenda to follow.

We were looking at creating a digital legacy, not just for ourselves but also to set an example in the UK arts and cultural scene.

At first minute details caught us out.

Like setting out timings and schedule for a sound designer and contracting actors for ‘all rights’ digital content was new territory for all of us.

Managing a budget to green light the funding was a complex balance - it was tough to know what expect with such a bold ambitious project as this was only the Arts Council England and The Space’s second year of supporting such podcast series.

Together we juggled timings, we swopped and scribbled notes, mapped out timelines and route maps of how we hoped the project could unfold.

With my 15 years of audio experience and Jack’s theatre connections - we created a four stage process of how the work would be undertaken over the course of 9 months: Planning, recording, editing and marketing.

After an initial two days face to face coaching support, I left Jack and the team to get to work. They recorded in windowless studio booths, squeezed in rehearsal time between their already touring repertoire, they wrote press releases and marketing lists amongst their telephone calls booking other productions' touring venues, they scheduled tweets and social media posts ready for launch date over their weekends…

Every part of the organisation pulled together and added their energy to the success of this project. And more importantly, each of them learnt and grew in their knowledge of understanding a new medium.

Once recordings were set, and most of the edit was complete - I continued my coaching with the team looking at how to sell their series and raise as much activity as possible upon launch. They created audiograms, looked into watch parties, dropped friendly texts to old media contacts and formed partnerships with those who might wish to share the series with their audience.

I'm proud to say I know about and worked with this project. From a mere seed of an idea to watching the final pieces bloom like flowers opening in spring - for first time podcasters, what they've created is fantastic.

My advice on how to consume: wear headphones, turn out the lights, crawl under the duvet and switch off from the world for a bedtime story...

Warning: You will have very weird dreams afterwards!

From local schools, history clubs to walking tours…it’s not certain where this project will head under current circumstances.

But what we do know is that New Perspectives have made their mark with a permanent piece of digital work to live online for many many seasons.

And that we’ve created a monster.

Not a big haunted scary one but one that means behind closed curtains, the team are already discussing ideas of what their next podcast series will be about as they continue to enjoy their new creative playground…

Listen To The Series

RIVER, OF COURSE: An invisible presence haunts the river-crossing, bound by guilt and rooted by betrayal. Layer by historical layer, the celebrated name of the world-famous location is revealed. OFF THE MOTORWAY: The voice of a lonely church draws us towards the Warwickshire hills and we begin to discover that its history is not what it seems.

GRIM'S DITCH: A ghostly homage to Mr James set in remote North Wessex, in which the land itself begins to tell us what it once did to a man who tried in vain to master it.

CAVE GIRL - PART 1: A teenage girl finds herself trapped in a prehistoric identity when, on a research trip in Sussex with school friends, she begins to see visions of the place's Neanderthal past.

FROM THE STONE AGE - PART 2: Stranded on a country road late at night in the Sussex Downs, Kerry leaves friends to go in search for help, but instead finds herself confronted by a vision from another time.

NEMETON: A track to a pagan well beckons as you're invited take a walk in West Cornwall, guided by the voice of the path itself.

THESE CLOUDED HILLS: Re-trace the footsteps of an amazing journey as the teenage Mary Jones walked 25 miles barefoot across the rugged Snowdonia mountains to buy her own Welsh bible. (Also available in Welsh)

TO THE WATERS AND THE WILD: A hidden lake speaks to us, revealing how secret visits by a young boy have continued to haunt him as a grown man in Northern Ireland.

WHERE THERE IS NO MORE SEA: An actress conjures the last moments of a 17th century young woman in Scotland drowned at sea for refusing to swear allegiance to the English crown.

HERE WE STAY: Hear the voice of the plague, as it offers a guided tour of its spread through the village Eyam in 1665, before the villagers quarantined themselves to prevent it from spreading.

POISON CROSS: Modern England is transformed into an ancient bloody battlefield, as seen by the driver of an HGV truck as it hurtles down the motorway towards Warwickshire.

EXTRA: Curator and producer Gareth Evans discusses the genesis and wider resonances of the epic PlacePrints project in a rare interview with its visionary writer David Rudkin.

PlacePrints is a 10 part podcast series by New Perspectives, created using funding from The Space Arts and the Arts Council England.

Writer: David Rudkin Director: Jack McNamara

Curator and Producer: Gareth Evans Sound Designer: Adam McCready (Poetical Machines)

Made using funding and support from The Space Arts and Arts Council England.

Consultancy support by Clare Freeman and ASFB Productions.

ASFB Productions testimonial by director, Jack McNamara: "Clare. Thank you so much for everything you have done over the last year - it's been a game changer for us and for me creatively. A whole new world has opened up, and you've enabled it all in such a humble but incisive way."

Fiona Morris, CEO and Creative Director of The Space:

"We’re really pleased and proud to have commissioned PlacePrints. The team have lovingly created a wonderful audio series perfect for the times that we find ourselves in."

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