Lockdown Austen

During Lockdown 2020, I had the privilege of bringing one of my all-time favourite books to life in a brand-new dramatised recording for Audible.

In August I directed, remotely, a full-cast of production of Jane Austen’s glorious novel ‘Mansfield Park’ (dramatised by Catherine Dyson.) Billie Piper went into a Covid-secured studio in North London to record her narration, with me directing her via Skype from home. The rest of the cast worked with me from their homes via an online platform called Cleanfeed. We were all brilliantly co-ordinated and recorded from a Bristol attic, by the marvel that is sound engineer Tshari King.

I assembled a fantastic cast for this production; Billie Piper, Matt Addis, Lucy Briers, James Corrigan, Scarlett Courtney, Rosalind Eleazar, Jennifer English, Emma Fielding, Ash Hunter, Joel MacCormack, Harry Myers, Esme Scarborough, Lucy Scott, Bert Seymour and Natalie Simpson. They knocked the script out of the park, despite the bizarre and uncomfortable working conditions. A couple of actors did have access to properly-kitted out recording spaces, but for the most part C19 proved to be the mother of invention, and the solutions were impressive. Home studio set-ups ranged from duvet-draped wardrobes, to hall cupboards, to upended sofa backs.

Cleanfeed allows people to dial into a shared audio space from anywhere in the country (and overseas) so the cast was scattered right across the UK from Hampshire to Newcastle. We found ourselves recording in the hottest week of the year, cramped under duvets and with all windows shut. Overheating computers were one issue, and overheating actors were another, but despite the huge technical challenges, we got 70+ scenes successfully recorded in 6 days. The audio was then sent to the sound designer Adrienne Quartly and the composer Isabel Herchmann to work their post-production magic (also working from home) and put it all together.

None of us – cast or crew – were trained or equipped for working remotely before Lockdown hit in March. We each had to figure things out for ourselves independently at home, so I am really proud of what we achieved together on this production. Of course it would have been nicer to have worked face-to-face, in a professional studio, but that fact that we managed to get such great results while pioneering new ways of working is to the real credit to everyone involved on the project.