Andy Howells chats with Joint-Artistic Director of Flying Bridge Online Repertory Company, the actor and writer, Daniel Llewelyn Williams about the companies debut series – Astrid Investigates.
Move over James Bond, Miss Marple and Sherlock Holmes for South Wales based detective Astrid Price is making an all-important transition from the printed page to an audio comedy drama!
The Origin of Astrid Investigates
Astrid Investigates stars Manon Eames as Astrid Price, a Private Investigator that used to play as an outside half for the Welsh Women’s Rugby team and embraces the art of Dai Chi when placed in a tight corner during her investigations. From her bed-sit above a chip shop in Casnewydd, Astrid will be catapulted into a series of adventures I produced by Flying Bridge Online Repertory Company all set in an independent Wales of the not too distant future .
Astrid is the creation of Newport author and former schoolteacher Alan Roderick and came about when Alan signed up for a Creative Writing course in Newport. Presented with a short story project, he combined a passion for detective stories with the name of a leading character from a romantic story he had written several years before.
“That short story never got anywhere, but I liked the name and filed it away in my mind for future reference,” Alan told Andy Howells in 2017, “Once I wrote the first ever short story featuring Astrid, I couldn’t stop writing and the ideas just came pouring out,”
Two books of short stories followed and came to the attention of award-winning actor and writer, Daniel Llewelyn Williams known for his stage work including a successful West End run of The 39 Steps, a worldwide tours of his one-man act A Regular Little Houdini and more recently a stage tour of Lighthouse Theatre’s It’s a Wonderful Life.
“Female Gumshoe Detective”
On reading Alan’s books, Daniel immediately became enthralled with Astrid and an idea began to form to transfer Astrid to another medium.
“First of all, I saw female gumshoe detective and the potential for parody,” Daniel tells Andy Howells, “ I wanted to make that into something that Alan had already begun, a parody that was funny, with potential for so much more and we’ve expanded it.”
“Alan’s taken the hard-boiled genre and parodied that the archetypal stereotypical Bond type character and made him female. She’s not behaving like Moneypenny she’s behaving like Bond. That to me was a useful tool for pointing out social imbalances that we still have in a cultural norm and I figured we would use that same technique for a lot more themes along the way.”
“So, it is not just about gender feminism It is about gender politics, racial politics, language, and cultural suppression. So many topical social injustices can be spun into his parody by inverting archetypes. It sounds very dry and academic when I put it like that, but it must be fun. The main ticket is using humour, wit and charm to the key of the audiences heart. Once you get the humour you can do a bigger pathos.”
From Page To Audio Drama – Astrid Investigates
As Joint Artistic Director of Flying Bridge Theatre Company, Daniel was already working on a new production based on the story of The Newport Chartists Rising of 1839 when COVID 19 arrived in the UK. Following government advice closing all theatres and venues, an alternative plan was required involving the development of a new online theatre company designed to capture the immediacy of a theatre performance without a stage. The Flying Bridge Online Repertory Company was formed and subsequently awarded Arts Council of Wales funding. Enter – Astrid Price!
With Alan’s consent, Daniel along with writer, producer and former Artistic Director of the National Youth Theatre of Wales, (now Joint Artistic Director of Flying Bridge Theatre Company & The Flying Bridge Online Repertory Company) Tim Baker set about taking the Astrid Price stories to a new level by creating brand new scripts for an audio drama.
“Alan’s short stories are exactly that – short stories!” explains Daniel, “They basically act as inspiration for writing a completely new script.”
“I’d had Astrid in my pocket for the last three years and already written one of the scripts for radio format, so we decided let us make an online repertory theatre company. Each script would take a week to write and half a week to rehearse and record then we’d do that in repertory and then release it on a weekly basis through the theatres for 48 hours.”
Although a work of fiction, Astrid Investigates keeps its anchor in realistic surroundings.
“It’s based in a Wales that’s independent with familiar references,” says Daniel, “It takes two seconds to realise that Casnewydd is Newport, but it is also inclusive for anyone who does not understand Welsh references. It very much has a location in a fictional Wales, but it is not exclusive Welsh humour. We are very much aiming for a worldwide audience. Distributing through the Internet, we don’t have a geographic limitation.”
Vocal Gymnastics For Astrid Investigates
As well as writing and producing Daniel will also be lending his vocal skills to the series by taking on a wide range of characters for Astrid to encounter. A form of vocal gymnastics of which theatre goers may have witnessed when Daniel played the lead in Lighthouse Theatre’s stage presentation of the radio performance of It’s a Wonderful Life last autumn.
“The premise is Manon plays Astrid and I play everyone else,” says Daniel, “It is a real voyage of vocal dexterity and it is all recorded live so there will be moments where I will be having large amounts of dialogue with myself, jumping about and doing what is termed as vocal gymnastics. It is a style of Theatre that back to my training as I did a lot of clown work which had eccentric circles of reality. I don’t get immersed in a character where I lose myself, I have to become immersed in a second, it takes a lot of rehearsal, but it’s a style that I’m used to.”
Following the first series of seven half hour episodes, Flying Bridge Online Repertory Company are planning a second English language series of Astrid Investigates and a third Welsh language series of new stories for early 2021.
Manon Eames will play Astrid across all three series, although Daniel and Tim Baker looked further afield for a supporting actor for the Welsh episodes.
“We wanted Astrid to be bilingual because the actress is required to be consistent in both the English and Welsh episodes,” says Daniel. “I’m less important as I’m everybody else. We decided we needed somebody with that vocal ability and had the same range for the Welsh episodes. So, we have got Richard Elfyn, one of the best actors in Wales, not just in Welsh but in English too – a powerful actor!”
How To Listen to Astrid Investigates
Each episode of Astrid Investigates will be live streamed for free for 48 hours before moving to iTunes and audible for a fee to purchase. Audiences can keep up to date with the live free streamed performances by liking the Flying Bridge Online Repertory Company event page.
To aid the awareness of theatres during lockdown, the production will also be streamed through several theatre websites during the same time frame. Daniel has discovered however that this has proven slightly difficult in some cases, even in an age where streaming a production online has become relatively simple.
Daniel explains, “The problem we are facing is distribution and marketing. Part of what we always wanted to do as a theatre company Is create material for theatres. That’s why we’re gifting this production to every theatre that would have previously been our touring partners, in order for them to make it available to their audiences during a time when many theatres have furloughed 95% of their staff.”
“Wales was and is during COVID behind a lot of larger English theatres on digital output and art finding new avenues. It has been difficult to have discussions with theatres which only requires them to do something as simple as post a link on their website. English theatre companies have been doing this now for nearly ten years. NT Live and RSC is the sort of material that will start flying off the shelves again and theatres do not need to be open for that. At the moment, theatres can’t produce shows, but they can certainly host online when they have companies like us.
“Quality, Charm and Humour” for Astrid Investigates
Daniel is bubbling over with excitement about Astrid’s arrival as he would be on the eve of any of his previous stage successes.
“I’m over the moon because I think we’ve got a cult hit on our hands,” he declares, “We’ve always got messages in our work but one of things we lead with is quality, charm and humour, those three things have to be there before anything else. Peoples ears are closed before you convey a message, and you need to have a good Story. It has to be told well and with skill, otherwise people don’t want to listen. We’ve shown it to test audience and the response has been incredible.”
The first episode of Astrid Investigates entitled King Arthur’s Crown, premieres on Flying Bridge Online Repertory Company’s YouTube channel from Thursday September 17 at 7.30pm and is accessible for free for 48 hours.