In a blending of both drama and documentary, three bereaved women talk about their real experiences of loss and how they've tried to move forward with their lives. In a parallel drama, their loved ones meet on a beach in "the hinterland," somewhere between life and death.
Based in Birmingham, Sara Conkey is a producer with the BBC Features Department.
BEHIND THE SCENES with producer Sara Conkey
Hinterlands is very different from documentary work being produced in the U.S. in the way that it intertwines interviews with radio drama. How does the production of a piece like this begin?
It actually began with the writer Sarah Woods and myself taking a walk in a park. We had been talking about working together for some time, but without any idea how that might happen. As we were approaching my home, I said: "Actually what I'd really like to do is a programme about death. I'd like to talk to three women about their experiences of grief." I had never heard a program on this subject. Sarah got very excited about how she could write a drama around it. We went inside and wrote up a proposal there and then.
What drew you to producing a program on death and women's experiences of mourning?
I had never heard a programme that explored grief.
How did you collaborate with the playwright to design the dramatic story?
I did the interviews first, and everything grew from that. Sarah Woods then started working on selecting and ordering the interview material, and we had long conversations throughout about what to keep and what to lose. For example we kept all the emotional content, but lost repetition. We lost details of the broader families’ reaction, because that would have made the stories too complicated.
What is the relationship between the real-life stories of the people who talk about the deaths of a son, husband, and mother to the dramatic story?
We were very aware that, unlike pure drama, we were dealing with real people with real feelings. We consulted the interviewees at each stage along the way, and also showed them the final script. They were very generous, and gave us free rein to create characters as we chose. The characters are based on the loved ones they lost, but they also serve a dramatic function, exploring what they need to let go of in life, before they can leave the hinterland they find themselves in.
What do you think would have been lost if the production had been based on the interviews alone and had omitted the dramatic aspect?
Hinterlands has an otherworldly, almost spiritual feel to it, for me, because we are able to explore that "otherworldly" place, beyond time. I think the programme without the drama would have been more prosaic, less poetic. I loved the idea of the dead communicating with the living, although the living couldn't hear them.
And how did you work with the actors to create the effect you were looking for?
Claire Grove, the director, worked with the actors. The idea was to get as naturalistic performances as possible, to blur the line between fact and fiction.
What is the benefit to the piece and to the audience of blurring "the line between fact and fiction?"
I think it stimulates the imagination. It helps us to listen to fact in a different way — it opens up possibilities. I think what I hope will happen is that the brain will try to listen to the programme as a documentary, then as a drama, and will finally give up and listen to the piece as a whole.
What is the best setting in which to listen to Hinterlands?
It aired in England at 9 PM at night, which I think is a good time to listen to it. It does need a little quiet, time and attention. I know one friend who listened to it on her Walkman as she was running! I recommend people to lie in a dark room and listen to it with a glass of whiskey.