Over the weekend The Guardian released the entire first series of a new audio drama podcast – Adulting. The series consists of six episodes which tell the story of a group of friends who gather for a wedding in the Lake District, ten years after all being together at University. It features Pearl Mackie in her first role post-Series 10 of Doctor Who. She plays Charlotte and is joined by Joe Dempsie (Game of Thrones), Hannah Murray (Game of Thrones), Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Misfits) and Kathryn Wilder (Ophelia in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet) in the cast.
We talked to the writer of the series, a familiar name to Big Finish fans, Eddie Robson, about how the series came together, inspirations, his favourite Doctor and writing for Pearl Mackie.
BW: This is the first Guardian podcast drama, how did Adulting come about?
ER: They approached me. Simon Barnard, who runs Bafflegab, is an audio producer there and the Guardian were working on a season of features called The New Normal. As part of that they had sponsorship from Lloyds Bank and had the budget to make a drama. They gave me the premise of a group of university friends meeting ten years after graduation at a wedding, with a mystery around why they hadn’t seen each other, and asked me to pitch a story from that. Once I came up with something they liked, I had a pretty free hand.
BW: Why do you think there has been a rise in the popularity of audio drama podcasts?
ER: I think the rise in sponsorship for podcasts is probably making the difference. If you’re doing this stuff with no money, you can’t afford much more than just people talking into microphones – it’s hard to do a proper drama under those circumstances. But if you can get a budget behind it, you can afford studio time, actors, sound design and editing. I could never have got this off the ground by myself – I don’t have the skills and I couldn’t call in favours.
BW: How did you find fitting your story into a shorter runtime?
ER: It was always in the brief so it was OK. It does rattle through a fair amount of plot but I wanted to err on the side of having too much happening instead of too little. The main thing I was conscious of was that the audience might not listen to much (or any) audio drama, they might be more accustomed to podcasts like Serial, so I thought it was important to have narration. Also, part of the brief was that it should bounce back and forth between the present and the past, and narration helped make clear when we were shifting in time. I also wanted it to have a pieced-together feel, like those documentary podcasts – you get one person’s perspective, then another, then you get a flashback to something that’s now become important… that sort of thing.
BW: Do you think there is more stress in being an adult in the modern world than there was for previous generations?
ER: I think there’s less security. I’m a little older than the characters in Adulting and a lot of my generation feel like we caught the last chopper out of Saigon in terms of the housing ladder. We’re hanging on by our fingernails but at least we’re hanging on – anyone even five years younger than me is really up against it if they want to buy a house. And jobs seem very insecure, employers seem to want less and less responsibility, and people in their twenties are under so much pressure to work out what sort of life they want. That’s what I wanted to depict in Adulting – some of our characters seem to have it all sorted and others don’t. And of course, all is not at it seems.
BW: I hope I’m not causing offence by saying this but Adulting reminded me a little of This Life, was there any shows you looked at for inspiration?
ER: This Life was a huge influence on it, yeah – I don’t think anything has ever replaced This Life, I can’t quite imagine who’d commission it now. It’s really just about their lives and relationships, and these days that would be a hard sell. I think it was a hard sell at the time. But it was great. I was also thinking quite a lot of Fresh Meat, that’s probably the closest thing to This Life there’s been – and that was more of a comedy than This Life was.
BW:I know you’re a big Doctor Who fan having written many audio dramas for the Doctor so some quickfire questions:
ER: Peter Davison
BW: Favourite Companion?
BW: Favourite episode of all time?
ER: Heaven Sent
BW: And since we’re coming to the end of Capaldi’s era do you have a favourite moment from the 12th Doctor?
ER: Either the montage in Heaven Sent or the cliffhanger of World Enough And Time.
BW: You’ve got a brilliant cast for this, did you write the characters with them specifically in mind?
ER: Not at the start, but because of the tight turnaround time, Simon was casting it while I was writing it. So I was throwing out suggestions to him and as the cast fell into place, I started writing with those voices in mind. I was able to do one last pass after the casting was completed to make sure all the voices were right.
BW: Had you seen Pearl as Bill Potts when you were writing Charlotte?
ER: Oh yes! She was just amazing in the part – so funny and immediately likeable. I think the main quality any regular in Doctor Who needs is the ability to shift quickly from humour to peril, because the show does that constantly, and she has that in spades.
BW: Did any aspect of her performance as Bill influence her character in this?
ER: It didn’t, actually, because she was cast quite late – really just because it hadn’t occurred to Simon or me that we might be able to get her! We thought she might be too big for it now she’s done Doctor Who. But I noticed she’d tweeted about being on the way back from a convention, so I figured she wasn’t in the thick of filming or a theatre run, so we took a punt – and she went for it. It fitted in nicely because she was just about to start rehearsals for The Birthday Party at the Harold Pinter Theatre. I had time to take another pass at Charlotte’s dialogue, though, to tailor it to Pearl’s voice a bit more.
BW: How would you describe Charlotte?
ER: She’s a bit dry and sarcastic, with a tendency to point out other people’s foolishness. When we meet her as a 31-year-old, she’s let her early ambitions fall by the wayside and she’s trying not to feel too bitter about that.
BW: What did Pearl bring to the character that surprised you?
ER: Charlotte’s quite flippant and Pearl brought an emotional realness to her which I’m not sure I’m capable of actually writing!
BW: What are you most proud of about Adulting?
That it got made! It’s so rare that someone approaches you with the chance to create your own characters and story, and a fantastic team to realise it – I love all the stuff I do for Big Finish but it was great to get the chance to fully create my own world. And it’s very much my kind of story – it takes a sinister turn as it goes on, without giving too much away. I write so much material that never sees the light of day – the failure rate in this job is quite high, we all pitch projects that don’t come off all the time – so it’s great to write the kind of thing I love to write and see it made.
All 6 episodes of Adulting are available to listen to for free on the Guardian website.