Big Finish: Class: SECRET DIARY OF A RHODIAN PRINCE - THE INTERVIEW - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Tony talks Class.
Class is back in session at Big Finish two years since its last release.

But The Secret Diary of a Rhodian Prince is unlike any Class audios you’ve heard before. It goes right back to basics and is particularly focused on the impact on Charlie Smith of his exile from Rhodia and sending to an Earth school, and how he copes with the new life and new people he finds there.

Told half as a direct diary reading by Charlie Smith actor, Greg Austin, and half in scenes with Matteusz Andrzejewski (Jordan Renzo), it’s an intense, intimate, teenage look at the experience of uprooting and finding trustworthy supporters in extreme circumstances.

Whether you look at the news from Ukraine and Syria, of people’s lives being turned upside-down, or whether you look across the Atlantic at exiled princes making a new life, it’s hard to argue that Secret Diary of a Rhodian Prince is not an audio drama that meets today’s needs.

Ahead of its release, WarpedFactor sat down with Greg and Jordan, along with writer, producer, and composer on the release, Blair Mowat, to talk all things Rhodian Prince.

WF: Did any of you ever actually keep a secret diary as a teenager?

Greg: Well, I think Jordan’s probably the closest to that. He had like his little Holy Bible of all the things he needed to remember to play Matteusz. He did more research and work than any of us. And I think that's the closest we have to it. I've never kept a diary. I've tried many times throughout my life to keep a diary. And yeah, it's always dusty and lost underneath a pile of other books. So that was an interesting challenge for this, trying to put myself in the role of someone who would write a diary. It's not me.

Blair: I did actually, I actually did write a diary. It was for about one year but it had a lock on it. And a little key that said “Keep out.” And of course, you could obviously pry it open, and read certain things. But I actually don't have the key for that anymore. I have the diary somewhere. So I have a secret diary that still exists that I can’t open! But when I have pried it open and been able to view certain things, it is incredibly embarrassing.

WF: That was gonna be our follow-up question. What's the most embarrassing thing that you remember being in it?

Blair: Oh, just about people that I fancied and stuff, you know, at school and things like that. I mean, I cringe just thinking about myself. And a week ago, I went back and read about what I thought were things like crushes, and thoughts about friends and, and it’s just so teenage and overly emotional. And I really probably should go back and try and just cut it and open it, and just read it because actually, it would be great to read. If we were to ever do any more Class stuff, it would be great to remind myself of what I was like as a teenager, as much as I don't want to remind myself.

But I think these kids are cooler than I was back at school. Some of them at least.

WF: Did you have to regress yourself into a teenage mindset to get what you needed for a release that’s very much caught up with all that – all the teenage emotions - or is it more specific to the characters?

Blair: No, I kept it more specific to the characters. I really didn't put too much of myself into it, in terms of what I was like as a teenager back then. And obviously, I was in school back in the 90s, which is very different from 2016, when this is set. So I was very much just putting myself in their heads and those characters and because I know the show very well, having had to watch it like 100 times as I'm composing for it, and doing the Big Finish audios and hearing those characters developed further, it really just does all stem from mainly the characters themselves.

WF: Blair, we know you most, probably, for your musical work. This is a different take on Class from everything that’s come before – on TV and audio. What were the challenges of tone for the music of this release? Because this one’s a more emotional tale than an action tale, so we wondered where the lines of that lay.

Blair: Yeah, the diary format’s an interesting one. The thing that you have to be careful of with diary entries is that where we're not used to hearing or seeing those as part of a story structure very often. And what I found was that actually, it needed a more restrained musical approach in terms of emotions, etc.

And, also, with music, sometimes you're fixing things musically, and you're pushing things in a direction that maybe didn't end up where it needed to be on set, and you have those conversations with the directors or the producers. And we're very fortunate, obviously, to be working with Greg and Jordan. They're incredibly talented actors, and they know those characters so well.

Scott Handcock is an amazing director, who has directed, produced, written and worked on, well over 100 Big Finish audio stories – and this may be one of his last ones! By the time the Secret Diary is released, he’ll be off, Script Editing Doctor Who. So to have those people means a level of production where I didn't really have to fix anything with the music on this one; it was all there already. So I just had to support those amazing performances and direction.

But there are certainly moments when they speak to each other, when it's not in diary format, where the music can be more emotional. And we definitely use music as a device to highlight certain things that I wanted to get across, like I was saying - whether it's about a joke landing, or whether it's about making a big moment feel epic, we definitely use the music to do that. Also, it's so great to be able to use all that stuff as the composer on the show. For example, with something like the Shadow Kin, we can very quickly evoke the feeling of those characters being on screen, because I'm literally using the same musical instruments that I had back in 2016. And I think that's a real treat, to be able to just make it feel 100% authentic from a sort of aural point of view.

WF: You mentioned Scott going on to “the big show,” as it were. Here’s a flippant one - Class on TV versus Class on audio - which do you prefer and why?

Greg: They each have their own charm for me. I mean, obviously the genesis of Class has its own special place and its own mysticism around it. Nothing will ever encapsulate that specific experience for me, and I mean, I'd love to go back and do some more Class on screen. But if this is what Class naturally evolves into, if this is where it lives now, and it manages to continue in an audio form, that's more than I could have ever asked for.

And the audio format is really interesting to me, I’m starting to do more work in that space. And it's a completely different skill set. Trying to evoke a performance that translates to the listener through the audio medium is a very different beast than it is visually. I started on stage, I did musical theatre. When I was training, I wasn't aiming to be an actor, it's just hat happened. And so I've always been very focused on both the audio and a lot of the visual aspect of theatre craft. So getting to flex those voice acting muscles, in something that I consider as safe and as grounded as this show is, for me, having had so much experience, it's… I can't say I necessarily prefer it, it's just its own experience. And I love it for its own charms and qualities.

Blair: I think there's obviously advantages and disadvantages, isn't there, to each format. So I think like Greg said, it’s not about preferring one or the other. But as a writer, approaching audios, I think you need to lean into the advantages of the format.

For example, the first script that I wrote, Queen of Rhodia, you couldn't do that on television, we didn't have the budget, it's full of visual effects shots and explosions and flying spaceships, you know, it's all set on an alien planet. And you're changing, and there's huge costumes, and I'd say “In the palace…” and you just don't have the budget to be able to do that all for a one-off episode in Roath Lock in Cardiff on the budget that we had. Even though the budgets were quite comparable to Doctor Who, you're still constrained in what you can do.

So I think leaning into what the advantages of audio is very important. And then also, if you think about this script, I mean, having a character read a diary on screen for you know, 50% of it. That would be incredibly challenging for a director, you'd have to find ways to be able to pull that off.

But for an audiobook, people are reading audiobooks all the time, people are used to listening to an audiobook or somebody speaking in monologue and within an audio, so it feels very natural, and it leans into the medium.

And so I think the important thing is to play into the strengths of the two formats. And if you're going to do an audio series, I think it's got to be different from the TV series, in terms of how you go about it, because it is a different format. So there's no doubt that Class on audio is going to be different, and should be different, from Class on television in terms of which directions we lean into.

But I will say is that I do miss the music budget of the TV show! Jordan actually came to one of the sessions, and there’s a lovely photo of us, very fresh-faced back in the day. And I'm sitting there with a string orchestra and recording guitars in the same room as all these rock bands are using on a daily basis. We just don't have that in audio format. But that's something that I've learned to deal with, having written the music for the Torchwood audios, of which over 100. It's a great education.

WF: We’ve been a little cagey, talking about “If there are any more of these…” – If there are, now we’ve got the Secret Diary out of our systems, and done something this intimate and emotional with the format, where would you like to take it if there is the next one?

Greg: I think you have to listen to the fans. I think, if there were to be any more then I think you want to move the story forward. And I think that would be the desire. And you know, whether that happens or not, time will tell, but I think there is a desire from the fans to see what happens in the future, and certainly from us.

Blair: So the desire is there. I do think that the past is very interesting as well. And that's one of the reasons that a great chunk of this is set as a prequel. And I do think that there is fertile ground there to be ploughed, as well. But I think we've done a lot of work within a short timescale. I mean, realistically, there's only so many aliens those kids can be involved with in the space for seven weeks. I mean, gosh, no wonder he's writing a diary. There's a lot.

WF: And that's after exile from his home planet and the toppling of his authority.

Blair: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. So. So yeah, it just depends on how much how much interest we get out of this. We'll see how well it does. And hopefully, we'll have lots more fertile ground to plunder.

Greg: It's a bit of a test, really, because Class hasn't come out with an audio for a couple of years - obviously, we had the pandemic and things where everybody was all over the place, and in various places in the world. But I guess this was partly a test to see what the thirst was for more Class.

And judging by the interaction that we saw on social media to the announcement, it was incredibly positive. And if that translates into sales, then there's certainly a desire from us to do more. And, you know, hopefully, we can work with Big Finish to further that desire.

WF: Is there a sense that there's been time enough now that there's been a re-evaluation, there's a sort of coming to it new in this medium? Big Finish seems to have had that effect on Star Cops and Blake’s Seven, and other franchises from back in the day, moving them forward, so it sort of feeds that fan sensibility of “Give me more of this thing that I have only had some of”…

Greg: Yeah, people do really seem to want it. And I do think that the discourse around it is just overwhelmingly positive these days, which I just think is just really, really lovely.

WF: A show that died on screen before its time?

Greg: Yeah, yeah -

Jordan: Tragedy!

Greg: I mean, we could wax lyrical about that moment in time, and how it was just very unfortunate that it was just down to timing, down to drama commissioners, down to technology, down to being the first to be on BBC Three.

The audience didn't know it was there. It was made for an audience that didn't know that it really existed. And I would meet people in the pub, you know, and they'd be “I love Doctor Who” and I’d say, “Yeah, I did meet with a Doctor Who for Class.” And I’d have to explain about Class, and they’d say “Yeah, that sounds cool. That sounds really cool, like a sort of UK Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” But nobody knew about it at the time.

Blair: When it was cancelled, it was very sad for us. And it felt like it was almost a process of grief. The idea, after Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures having such a life on screen, the idea that there wouldn't be a Season Two, when I was visiting the set and I saw how amazing the cinematography, the design, the acting, the love that was being put into it, the idea that there wouldn't be a Season Two was madness. I was there, I was already planning music and I was setting stuff up in Season One for musical payoffs in Season Two. And so the sense of grief when it suddenly looked like it wasn't going to happen was really palpable, and it was like grieving for a year or two years. I mean, it still hurts now.

Which is partially why we're so enthusiastic to continue it with all these wonderful people that we've met through this process. I'm always happy to come back to it and I know most everyone else is as well. It's such a unique thing that we all grieve losing and it's a genuine pleasure to be able to come back and do anything towards it because we're just having a ball and hoping people enjoy hearing us do it.

Class: Secret Diary of a Rhodian Prince is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 28 February 2023, and on general sale after this date..

Tony Fyler lives in a concrete cave, somewhere on the edge of the sea, with his wife, who exists, and the Fictional People In His Head, who don't as yet. A journalist and editor by day, he has written Some Books, and is more or less always writing another. One day, he may even get around to showing them to people. In the meantime, he's Script Editor and occasional Executive Producer at Third Time Lucky Productions, and a proud watcher of things no-one remembers they remember until they remember.

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