Broadchurch actor in innovative Easter audio drama

Easter must be a good candidate for the story most often told. Every week, if not every day, in churches across the world the events of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Day are recalled. It’s one of the most dramatic stories there is, moving from death and defeat to life and hope. But for those who might hear it in church it perhaps becomes too familiar, whereas those who don’t may not know it at all. Given the centrality of Easter in our cultural history that seems a shame.

Working as I do for CTVC, a small charity which makes programmes, largely about spiritual and ethical issues, I was potentially in a position to do something about that. In a small way. It’s a privileged position I know. Not all of us who work in the media have the same opportunities. But perhaps in sharing the background to what we did, it might spark a few ideas for you.

So at CTVC we started thinking about telling the Easter story in a different way. We produce a podcast called Things Unseen. This is aimed at people of all faiths and none who believe there’s more to life than meets the eye. It’s focus tends to be discussions and documentaries, so we wondered if we could tell the story in that way.

For a really authentic sound, I was keen to record improvised interviews with actors standing in as the contributors as the basis for the piece. But rather than asking actors to improvise performances as people who lived 2,000 years ago we asked the writer Nick Warburton to come up with a contemporary story which reflected the themes of Easter. Nick’s experience with radio drama and dealing with religious themes made him the obvious choice, and in fact we’d made a sequence of monologues on the same theme for BBC Radio only a few years ago.

His story, Oliver Park – The Easter Riots, is set in the fictional town of West Trent. The town park has become host to a camp for refugees, which has now grown to include some homeless, immigrants who’ve recently lost their

jobs, and a few splinter protest groups. A vigilante group, City Watch, has been established in response, and with a march planned by the camp supporters, tensions are high.

Into this situation comes Carl Franklin, with a small group of followers including Charlie Hammond, and a radical but peaceful message. An infiltrator from this group leads them into an ambush by City Watch, and whist Carl’s supporters flee, he remains, with devastating consequences for Carl and his group. The cycle of violence seems set to continue, but extraordinary events the following day take things in a new direction.

For me, the most remarkable moment of the whole process came when I first talked to the cast over the phone.

We’d given them a chance to digest the story and their part in it, and went ahead with the usual process of calling

contributors up ahead of the recorded interview. As they dropped into their roles I was suddenly talking to the people who’d been at the centre of events very like those in the Gospels. From the tense and evasive police inspector to the slippery mole who betrayed Carl Franklin, the conversations were a revelation, and at times quite moving.

I shouldn’t have been surprised at this really. I’d worked with Joe Sims before, so I was thrilled that he wasn’t so tied up being the plumber Nige Carter in Broadchurch to be available for Oliver Park. Over the phone he became the impetuous Charlie Hammond so thoroughly I found myself defending our decisions about how we were telling this fictional story. (‘You’re not talking to him? What kind of radio programme is this?’) And when it came to the recording he was in tears when talking about what happened to Carl.

We hope people will find the finished drama equally moving. It’s released at in two parts, on Good Friday and Easter Day, or you can hear the whole thing on Premier Christian Radio on Good Friday at 5pm.

Paul Arnold is a producer and studio manager at CTVC, having previously worked for BBC Radio 4 and 4 extra, and themedianet. He is an accredited worship leader at Christchurch Methodist and URC church, Hitchin, for which he writes songs and play the saxophone.

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