BACKGROUND In June 1937, in the build to another global crisis, the “Mass Observation” study sought to capture the private thoughts and values of ordinary British people. Paid for by the establishment, but designed by artists, Mass Observation recruited 1000’s of “observers”. They listed objects on their mantelpieces, the incidentals of domestic life and noted overheard conversations.

RELEVANCE NOW Throughout the C19 crisis “social isolation” has commonly been described as a new and temporary phase for all of us. But in many contexts, people live with social isolation for years, if not decades. For e.g. prisoners have spent 23 hours a day in their cells recently, with all visits stopped since March. Documental Theatre wants to explore how individuals create a vivid and rich universe for themselves within tight parameters. We’ll recruit three sets of contributors, all of whom are the support or “prop” to a vulnerable loved one, and as such, forever floating apart from mainstream experience, whatever that is. The groups we are doing research with include:

– Families of overseas service people

– Spouses of long-term prisoners

– Carers of an adult child with profound learning disabilities

– People supporting a loved one awaiting an immigration decision

– Remote islanders

– Seasonal workers from overseas, sending money home

HOW WILL WE MAKE THE STORIES? Each contributor will have a unique backstory, and give informed consent. These “observers” will be supported to create a Mass Observation style archive in miniature, following the MO prompts (a list of objects on a shelf, a diary of anonymized “overheards”, an inventory of people passing their window etc.) Their personal domestic archives and testimonies will inform and inspire three 15’ radio dramas, written by playwrights, plus three 5’ spoken word pieces, authored and introduced by the contributors themselves.

STYLE The sound design for this series will be suffused with textures of the objects in the archive. The radio plays are shaped around the internal thoughts of two characters whose lives collide in unexpected ways. The immediacy of this kind of drama best serves a wide ranging listenership, who may have English as a second language or a disrupted history of formal education. We hope original drama like this can offer relief and solidarity to people living with an ongoing degree of social isolation.

CREATIVE TEAM Produced by Documental Theatre, directed by multi-award winner Sarah Meadows, edited by Ngozi Ugochukwu, written by Stephen Myott, Lucy Bell and Emma Dennis-Edwards (BBC Writersroom), music direction by Ben Kwasi Burrell (Small Island at The National Theatre). Project to be creatively overseen by award-winning station, National Prison Radio. If you are interested in finding out more or would like to discuss broadcasting, contact  lucy[at]documentaltheatre.co.uk

PROPS radio series is part-funded by Golsoncott Foundation.