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Thought voice - inside the head

Tuesday 11 October 2011, 14:11

Jenny Stephens Jenny Stephens

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Jenny Stuart with Gemma Lawrence (Erin Hayes) and Louis Hamblett (Daniel Hebden Lloyd)

Ambridge Extra has returned to BBC Radio 4 Extra. This second season brings with it a dramatic technique not found in The Archers. Jenny Stephens, who directs many of the episodes, explains how we spy on the characters' most revealing thoughts.

Have you ever found yourself sitting in a meeting and discussing some important business matter, but the little voice in your head says 'I must remember to pick the cat up from the vet', or even 'I could do with a stiff gin'?

You meet someone you've not seen for ages and your mouth says 'Great to see you' but inside you're saying 'oh no, beam me up Scotty'?

Hearing those thoughts is a technique well beloved of radio drama makers but one that has never been used in Ambridge... until now. Ambridge Extra is exploring this territory and we're starting to hear what Shula, Alistair and others really think. In the scripts it's usually described as the 'thought voice'.

Ambridge Extra does just what it says - it gives a little extra peek into the lives of the residents of the village and elsewhere. But it's not just about giving us all a couple of extra episodes of The Archers each week (welcome as that would be to many). It's a way of focussing more intently on a couple of stories and trying to find different ways of exploring them.

The use of the voice in the head gives us the extra dimension of hearing what characters are actually thinking, not just what they say they think. So Daniel can deny as much as he likes that he finds new girl Erin attractive, but we know the truth behind the denials.

There are a couple of different ways of creating the effect. We either set up a second microphone so that the actor leans in and whispers his or her 'thoughts' into this, or else they leave a gap in the dialogue and then at the end of the scene go to a separate microphone and do the 'thoughts' there, so that we can edit them in afterwards. The technique is known as 'close mic'.

They have to keep the volume low and imagine that they are muttering to themselves rather than projecting their voices for other people to hear. I get them to imagine that the microphone is directly in their brain rather than on the desk in front of them

When we get to editing the programme, we drop the background sounds to a low level as they 'think'. This creates the impression that we are zooming into their minds and away from the external world.

It's been fascinating and great fun to work on - and I think it will really put the Extra into Ambridge Extra.

Jenny Stephens is a radio and theatre director, producer and writer.

  • Ambridge Extra is on BBC Radio 4 Extra on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2.15pm. The omnibus edition is on Sundays at at 11.15am and 7.15pm
  • It is also be available as a podcast (free download)
  • Read an introduction to series 2
  • The producers write about the production process
  • Picture shows Jenny Stephens in studio with Gemma Lawrence (Erin Hayes) and Louis Hamblett (Daniel Hebden Lloyd)

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Comments

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 1.

    And I thought Ambridge was real - now I'm having doubts.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 2.

    I have to say I find this inner voice both unnatural and distracting. I think we are intelligent enough to know what characters are thinking. The sooner the internal voice is silenced, the better.

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    Comment number 3.

    Where does this 'Ambridge Extra' fit into the general storyline of the characters?? I mean, if we cannot get Ambridge Extra for whatever reason, are we missing strands of the main weekday episodes - it could get very confusing?!!

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    Comment number 4.

    There are lots of things happening in the lives of Archers characters that we never hear because of the limitations of time. Rest assured that if there's anything critical in Ambridge Extra, then it will be reflected (perhaps in passing, perhaps in some detail) in The Archers.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 5.

    We are intelligent enough to know what characters are thinking. But we don't agree about it.

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    Comment number 6.

    Whatever happened to good scriptwriting. I find the whole thought-bubble thing dreadfully clunky, and ill-fitting. Hark what's that sound, could it be my ancient VW's big-ends are going? Nope, it sounds more like Norman Painting et al. spinning furiously in their graves.

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    Comment number 7.

    "It's been fascinating and great fun to work on - and I think it will really put the Extra into Ambridge Extra." I'm sure it's been great fun, Jenny, but it seems to be over-done, and already has become a bit of a cliche, a bit like having child actors in a separate space (which doesn't match the acoustics of the scene)¹ I still think it would be better to use more skilful scriptwriters.
    - sa
    ¹ Sat-Nav syndrome

  • rate this
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    Comment number 8.

    "Hearing those thoughts is a technique well beloved of radio drama makers but one that has never been used in Ambridge... until now. "

    Actually, yes it has.
    There was a simply dreadful use of it, with the fourth actor who played Hazel Woolley, when she found Jack's journal. "But hist! What have we here? Peggy is not so green as she is cabbage-looking! She wants Power of Attorney! I must hie me to a jurisprudent and make me a mint of money " (cackle cackle) "But soft! The old fool awakens! I must put on my soft answer to turneth away wrath ..." etc.

 

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