We started devising The Other Referendum a few years ago. It’s one of those ideas that’s morphed and matured and waited for its moment. At the time of its conception, The Crown was attracting all manner of heated debate over how the royal family – it’s living, working members as well as the departed ones – could and should be depicted. It felt like this blurring of biography and fiction was crossing into hazardous, though thrilling, new territory. While we also wanted to dramatise an aspect of royalty, our approach was very different. We were interested in how one figure could possibly carry the weight of a country’s constitution. And where that would leave him or her if that burden was taken away. A human being and an institution rolled into one. An idea. Pure drama.
Our king is facing the end of his kingship. He delivers two speeches: one scripted to sound personal, the other genuinely personal. In between is a flashback scene between him and the prime minister about the impending referendum to end the monarchy.
Kingship is a burden, but it’s his lifeblood as well. We were faced with creating a hobbled figure of authority – a man for whom a sense of purpose is everything – and a human symbol of Britishness. How can one person function with such an historically important role? But then again, how can he function when it’s taken away?
In a sense, The Other Referendum is a work of science fiction, in its broadest, most speculative sense. There’s a hint of dystopia with its social unrest and a suggestion of violent and forced rebirth. But there’s also meant to be a normality about it and the continuing of a debate about division that a certain other referendum kicked off a while ago.
We found the idea of one man’s deeply felt response to his historic significance utterly irresistible. We considered it as a short film, and we tried out more extreme storylines (his reference to Charles I is a clue to how things could have ended). In the end, we wanted it to go down a more personal and human route. In a game of historical musical chairs, here is the individual left standing and with nowhere to go.
We struck gold with our voices. Steven Blake entirely inhabits our deposed king. He manages to combine that familiar clipped dignity with a sense of fragility that so humanises this remote figure. Mark Sangster imbues the prime minister with the ambition and new-found confidence you’d expect from someone at the helm of his country’s rebirth. Establishing our stories with vivid soundscapes has become one of our trademarks. For The Other Referendum, Mark Lingwood and Poppy Humphries crafted an astonishing opening which draws together the sounds of reportage and political commentary, full of suggestion and jeopardy. It mingles the familiar with the fictitious and creates a sense of urgency and violent change.
The Other Referendum is a what-if story that explores the personal and the political and, we think, is a tantalising listen. You can find it anywhere you get your usual podcasts, including Spotify, Audible and YouTube, and of course via this website. If you opt for Spotify, then please do leave a comment and opinion in the box – we'd love to hear what you think.