BBC Radio 4, 17 February 2012
Occupied worked on a Pirandellian premise; it was a radio
drama about making a radio drama.
On 26 March 2011 the production team at Holy Mountain Productions entered Fortnum
and Mason in London to make recordings, where members of the protest group UK Uncut were staging a sit-in. By the end of the
afternoon they were in a police cell, under arrest for something called "aggravated trespass." Life and art became intertwined
as the play explored whether such events can be transformed into drama, or whether they are 'dramatic' enough in themselves.
For James (James Lance), and Simon (Simon Kane), the task seemed straightforward
enough, as they tried to transmute their day-to-day experiences into a play with a middle-class central character Emma (Louise
Ford), that would explore how and why so-called 'ordinary people' have become radicalized in recent years - to such an extent
that they are prepared to risk arrest. However their aims kept being frustrated by events: the fracas in Fortnum and
Mason, the exchanges in the police station, and leading up to the occupation of St. Paul's Cathedral. Perhaps the events had
sufficient significance in themselves, and did not need to be transmuted into drama.
Through an ingenious combination of sound-effects - the mingled shouts of the croud,
the cry of police officers trying to keep order - interspersed with recordings of actual speeches (for example,
from the Radio 4 newsreaders, Boris Johnson or Home Secretary Theresa May), authors Glen Neath and John Jordan created a compelling
drama-documentary that demonstrated how little the politicians understood the reasons behind the protest. There
was no need to rewrite the material in fictional form to make a point; it was sufficiently dramatic in itself.
Occupied was an angry play, collapsing the distinctions between fiction
and actual events to dramatize the resentment of ordinary people against a government (and the capitalist system it represents,
including senior managers at the BBC, who are often squeamish about supporting those who criticize the ruling oligarchy) that
seems largely indifferent to the realities of daily life. Its chief virtue was that of immediacy: I felt that the drama
was being created in spontaneous reaction to contemporary events, rather like the chap-books penned by Robert Greene and Thomas
Heywood in the Elizabethan period. While the form of Occupied seemed a little rough at the edges (sometimes
I had difficulty trying to distinguish between different characters), this seemed insignificant compared to
the content, which urged us to think more clearly about why the protests took place, and why the continued occupation of St.
Paul's Cathedral represent an important consequence of such protests. One only
wishes that the politicians would take the trouble to listen to Occupied; they might learn something about
what the their constituents really think.