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Writersroom 10: The Verb

Rachel Delahay


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Henry’s calling. I know what he wants. It was the deadline for our short plays yesterday and yes, shock horror, I missed it. I ignore the call, send over the piece and call him back ten minutes later “shocked” and “surprised” his email blocked it the first time. (and people ask if I’m still acting!)

Despite this ropey start (I won’t even get into the details of how my first draft included a character whose name changed half way through) the play, after one night at the Live Theatre in Newcastle was selected to be transformed into a radio play for BBC Radio 3 show, The Verb. Amazing! They see my play, a play about race, about skin colour and hierarchy, a play that’s cast list read something a little like this- SAFIA-BLACK, TANIA-ASIAN, PETER-MIXED RACE… they saw this as being the perfect play for…. Radio?! Hang on a second…

But somehow it worked, without the line “Hello Tania, my India friend”, appearing once (though I did try and fight for that line to stay in). And I had done it. Had my first professional radio play produced by the BBC! My mom was beyond proud, and convinced me over the phone, as she made her way around Aldi, that this could possibly bump us up to middle class, meaning winning on every level!

Only that wasn’t it. It wasn’t enough that I’d made the deadline (kinda), completed the rewrites, and conducted several telephone meetings with the director to ensure we were all on the same page. Oh no, now they wanted me to do an on-air interview to discuss the issues raised in the play. Don’t get me wrong, in true actor style, I am actually very fond of talking about myself and my work but the pressure of persuading what I assumed would be the textbook Oxbridge listeners of BBC radio, that I had something important to say was proving a little too much. The only real thing I know about my play is it’s theme touches on Shadism. The only real thing I know about Shadism is that it probably isn’t a real word. This was going to be fun.

Mom assured me not to worry, as I was one of them now, just with a slightly more regional accent, and a cheaper education but after that, basically cut from the same cloth. I was not so convinced. My vocabulary isn’t as big as I’d like and there was a massive worry I wouldn’t understand the questions or be capable of constructing a coherent response. Being from Handsworth, I was used to verbal arguments being won with a passive aggressive “whatever”, or in extreme situations gunfire, but I was savvy enough to know probably neither of these would suffice at the beeb.

Now I know what you’re thinking (if you’ve made it this far into my rambling thoughts), how on earth does someone who struggles to articulate themselves end up as a writer, but this is precisely the reason why. In real life I’m the person that comes up with the perfect retort an hour after everyone’s gone home! On paper my thoughts can make logical sense (this piece perhaps excluded).

In actual fact the interview was a breeze. The brilliantly welcoming team up in Salford, along with cake dropped the pressure no end. Yeah, some words were thrown around that made me wish I’d brought a thesaurus but everyone was interesting and passionate about their work which made me excited about mine. In fact maybe a little too excited.

Getting on a bit of a soapbox I threw out statements I might have only felt comfortable enough to say in front of friends to then look around and see that I was obviously the only minority in the room. That wasn’t too awkward… but I figured if they considered anything to be too radical, or generalising they’d edit stuff out. And they didn’t.

Lesson learnt- trust yourself a bit more.

Rachel Delahay was one the 10 writers selected for our Writersroom 10 scheme to support emerging theatre writers.  Her play, 'LockSmiths' was broadcast on Radio 3's 'The Verb'on Friday 11th May - listen back to it on BBC iPlayer.

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