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)