For sixty-three years listeners to The Archers have switched on their radio sets in order to keep abreast of the everyday stories about the lives, loves and livestock of folk. Will an experimental radio soap set in cow-free Peckham see the fictional village of Ambridge meet its real-life urban match?
Unlike The Archers, this new urban soap will be performed on stage at the Bussey Building in London's Peckham in front of a studio audience and live-streamed over the internet every night for two weeks in a series of five-minute radio episodes. It will be performed, not by professional actors, but by the residents of Peckham themselves.
The project, which will air this July, forms part of the Royal Court's Open Court Season (a six-week period in which the Royal Court's new artistic director Vicky Featherstone hands over the running of the theatre to a group of more than 90 artists and playwrights) and has its origins in a suggestion from playwright Lucy Kirkwood (pictured), whose much-lauded comedy NSFW was performed at the Royal Court last autumn.
“I was attracted by the democratic form of the soap genre,” says Kirkwood. “I thought a theatrical version would make an exciting formal experiment, through which writers can collaborate and the Court can reach out to new audiences.”
True to Kirkwood's aim, this week saw playwrights Rachel De-lahay and (Olivier Award-winning) Bola Agbaje lead two sessions aimed at young writers from the local area in which they collected ideas for characters and plot.
Agbaje and De-lahay will shortly be joined by a team of eight more professional writers including Kirkwood in order to create the 10 short episodes. Agbaje has been watching episodes of flamboyant Latin-American soaps for research. “I am looking forward to writing something that's a bit over the edge... In terms of story anything can happen in a soap opera – crazy stuff,' says Agbaje, who has good memories of putting on her play Belong at the Bussey Building last year.
If the five-minute format doesn't already offer challenge enough, Agbaje wants to end each episode on a cliff-hanger.
”The audience should be saying: “Damn, I need to know what happens next.”' The Archers had better watch out – its forthcoming flower festival and single-wicket competition doesn't sound nearly as exciting!
'Soap Opera', Bussey Building, London SE15 (020 7732 5275; royalcourttheatre.com) 1 to 13 July