For the past two weeks on a Friday eve I have rushed home to listen to BBC Radio Wales at 18.30. This is because of a little radio show called The Harri-Parris Radio Show. It’s a sitcom with songs about a dysfunctional farming family from west Wales. My involvement with this? Well yes, I’m pretty involved to be honest. Based on a stage show I wrote a few years ago, the family now have two stage shows and 2 radio shows to their name.
This is the second radio series which I now co-write with Chris Buxton and Owen Lewis. It’s a very creative process that involves sitting around my kitchen table, lots of cups of tea and a lot of laughter.
Radio is fast becoming my favourite form to write. There really are no limitations when it comes to locations, props, set design and budget-wise the only thing to worry about is the amount of cast you can afford but other than that, the world is your oyster. It’s the first time that we’ve had a writing team and I’ve really enjoyed having more than one head on it. The ideas are richer, the jokes are funnier and all in all we’ve ended up with our best work to date.
For this series we concentrated on the up coming wedding of Anni and Ben. Ep 1 focused on the proposal which was happening at the same time as lambing on the farm as well as Ifan’s busiest time of the year – Valentine’s day when his Static Caravan of Love is at it’s busiest. Ep 2 followed the stag and hen do’s which both end up in Withybush Hospital A&E department. Whilst ep 3 was the run up the actual wedding, where there are countless disasters to sort, including the wedding venue being closed down to a drugs raid, a wedding cake turning out to be a carrot cake, and two horses mating on the yard whilst the local primary school are trying to sing ‘Love is all Around’ by Wet Wet Wet.
The actors got their first peek at the scripts at a HP social (again around my kitchen table) where we read the first drafts of the scripts and had a typical Harri-Parris buffet that Mami would be proud of. The core cast include Rhian Morgan as Mami, Daniel Rochford as Ifan, Rhys ap Trefor as Deiniol, Ollie Wood as Ben and me as Anni. This has been the set up for many years now so they all know their characters and the world very well. Their input at this stage is invaluable and their feedback almost always impacts the second drafts of scripts. The first read of the scripts had us all crying with laughter. It is a very special moment to see the actors read for the first time, to see their faces as they realise what they’re characters are about to say, to hear them laughing uncontrollably at each other, and for us the writers to realise that the scripts work- they ARE funny!
At around the same time as this I work with our Musical Director, Dan Lawrence on taking my initial ideas for songs, basic melodies, lyrics and style and with Dan’s wizardry, turning them into the next Harri-Parri’ hit songs. Dan is a rare breed of MD, not only is he an incredibly talented composer and musician, his knowledge of musical styles goes way beyond mine, but he’s also one of the funniest people I know. He is able to take an already funny song and make it even funnier. How he can make music sound funny I do not know, but I don’t question it, he is a wiz kid and we are lucky to have him on board.
It is a very short rehearsal period to compare with theatre, four days in total, and that includes the two evenings to record. It was an intense time to get the shows ready. Timings for such a show become very important. Each ep has to run for no longer than 27 mins and usually we have very little idea of the actual running time until we are dangerously close to inviting the audience in for the recording. Scripts and songs continue to be tweaked until the very last minute. We were also joined by Terry Lewis who recorded the show. What he doesn’t know about radio isn’t worth mentioning. He was a new and invaluable member of our team. It is also at the time that I hand all editorial responsibilities to Owen (the director and co-writer) and to Chris (co-writer and producer) so that I can try to concentrate on just saying the lines!
The core cast of the Harri-Parris were also joined by some other new play-mates. Ewan Donaldson, a very funny young comedy writer and performer joined us to play Anthony Bevan, the stripper at the Hen Do, the director and ex-actor, Elen Bowman put her acting hat back on especially for us and played the beauty therapist Siwan Gwallt, and we were also incredibly honoured to be joined by star of Victoria Wood As Seen on TV and Mrs Browns Boys, Susie Blake who played Belinda, my new mother in law. Now I don’t mind admitting that I burst into tears when I found out she had agreed to come onboard. I had written the part with her in mind but not thinking for a second that she’d be able to do it. It really was a highlight to hear and watch her play the part. It was one of those ‘is this actually happening’ moments.
Unlike may radio shows, we record each episode in front of an audience. Recorded at Chapter in Cardiff (also where we perform the stage show) we feel very at home there. Having an audience enriches the show, performances get even better, some jokes suddenly find their own in a way that they didn’t on the page, and it feels very much like a celebration of some sort. It’s lovely to look out at the audience and to see familiar faces from our stage show audiences, we have found ourselves with a very loyal following for which we are very grateful.
Once recorded the shows are sent to Terry to edit. He has the arduous task of finding the best takes (mostly the ones where we don’t corpse all over the shop) and puts on the final touches of sound effects. And here’s a little fun fact for you, the sound of Ifan’s squeaky love-making bed in his ‘Static Caravan of Love’ was made by opening and closing Terry’s front door. Who needs big budgets?!
At the end of the rehearsal/recording process, Chris, Owen and I all remarked what an amazing team we had. Watching everyone pull together within a very short space of time is quite something. More than that, we have a team that are as passionate about this silly farming family as I am. They want it to be the best it can be and it really pays off in the long-term.
Back in my kitchen listening to it being transmitted I am grinning as I remember us coming up with the line or story line or song all those months ago, or remember Rhian Morgan’s face when she first read the line and couldn’t believe what she was being asked to say, or the various moments along the way when I thought we’d never get this done. And we have. With bells on. It is a huge great toy to play with and still an honour to do so, I hope it’ll continue to be for sometime to come. Our thoughts now move onto Series 3. Maybe a little rest first though.
Llinos Mai, Mai oh Mai Productions.
Listen to the show on iplayer – http://www.bbc.co.uk/