The latest offering from DIVA Box Office featuring LGBTQI legends Heather Peace, Horse McDonald and Alicya Eyo
BY JACQUIE LAWRENCE
The team behind Sh! Whispers – Sam Grierson Schwarz, Pippa Dale and Jacquie Lawrence – bring a brand new podcast comedy drama to DIVA Box Office. Henpire, a six part series features Heather Peace, Alicya Eyo and Patricia Potter as characters loosely based on Sam, Jacquie and Pippa.
The impetus behind Henpire was actually drawn from their Sh! Whispers experience, when they banded together to write and produce erotic stories that provided product placement for Sh! Women’s Store as it transferred to trading solely online due to COVID-19.
As Pippa Dale says about the Sh! Whispers’ campaign: “If you want something done, ask a busy woman. If you want something imaginative, fun, challenging done quickly and professionally, ask a queer women.”
Episode one of Henpire is devoted to the Sh! Whispers’ story, but further episodes feature the antics of the trio as they decide to start a media empire by creating content for and about the queer female community. Their escapades see them experience random lesbian cultural events, like a haunted lesbian cafe-opening in Hebden Bridge, a lesbian goth festival in Whitby and a lesbian music festival featuring Horse McDonald (who plays herself with great panache). The backdrop to the events feature storylines dealing with the issues raised by coparenting, romance and autism with the queer female community.
Written by exciting new writer Sam Grierson Schwarz it places Drax, a lesbian with late diagnosed autism, at the centre of the drama. Sam herself was recently diagnosed and is conscious that lesbians with hidden disabilities have never really been portrayed in the media. Sam is from Yorkshire and was keen that Heather Peace play the character that is loosely based on her because of their similarities in age, regionalism and class.
Heather agreed to be cast immediately and brought an intelligent insight to the role. Heather says about playing Drax” “In terms of playing an autistic character, I had Sam to talk to at every stage. Sam is all I needed at this juncture; if it went to screen then that’s different and the research would be greater. But for the audio play, it was all about vocal pitch, rhythm and tempo and Sam was on hand to guide me through various thought changes and workings of her brain in particular situations”.
Heather was joined by Patricia Potter (the very popular Diane Lloyd in Holby) who plays Ella, a property developer by day, content producer by night. Patricia was drawn to the project by the storyline development of Ella’s character. She says: “The thing I love about Ella is the swing between being a very capable woman in business, and her joy in making marmalade, and the relationship she has with her neighbours kids. There is a softness to her which I really responded to. Equally she doesn’t take any shit. She knows her own mind and is prepared to make tough decisions and sacrifices to pursue her purpose.”
The final character in the tripartite, the titular Hen, is a hard-nosed television executive who leaves mainstream television to forge her own path. Played for comedic relief by Alicya Eyo, Hen goes on a journey that sees her having to navigate her friends’ lack of experience in her industry with their enthusiasm and raw talent. Alicya says: “I have met many women like Hen in my career. Their hard exterior is an armour they’ve had to wear to get on in male dominated industry. but Hen realises that women supporting each other can create something magical without any of the necessary ball breaking.”
One of the episodes features the DIVA Award winner and favourite, Horse MacDonald, who also provided the theme tune. Horse tells DIVA: “I think Henpire is special. Its more than just an audio drama, its a bit of an event. I was delighted to be invited to join what is a truly illustrious cast, to play a cameo role. Drax, Hen and Ella are shiny big characters and interacting with them in their slightly off kilter world made me laugh out loud. In addition to my role, the drama also uses one of my tracks, Don’t Give Up, as its theme. I think you’re going to love it!”
Henpire was written, rehearsed and recorded during a socially distanced production process that lasted less than five weeks. Jacquie Lawrence, writer of the web series Different For Girls, relished the challenge that the fast turnaround audio drama brought. She said: “My background is screen drama where differences in the characters are visual and obvious. Directing audio meant I had to focus on getting the character’s differentiation through nuances in the their voices, tone and delivery. I actually fell in love with the newish medium of pocket podcast drama even though the turnaround was bonkers compared to that of traditional screen drama!”.
For Pippa, Henpire changed her perspective, “COVID meant the working day for those of us in corporate life looked very different. I loved being part of the Henpire team – it was creative, supportive and I learnt so much about production. It’s inspired me to really get corporates to meet creatives – together queer women are literally unstoppable.”
For the originator and writer Sam Grierson Schwarz, Henpire means more than 60 minutes of podcast drama. As she says: ”The idea is to launch as a podcast drama to garner an audience, but also act as a pilot for something bigger, maybe even a screen drama”. Henpire brought Sam some happiness off-set too as she met her now wife, Elise, during the production. Sam says: “I met my wife around the time I was writing episode three and she was with me for the rest of the writing. Our relationship informs part of Drax’s storyline. My wife is a lawyer and is now counsel for my new media business so not only did I get a podcast series during lockdown but met the love of my life and gained a new business partner”.
Now that’s a pretty productive lockdown by anyone’s standards!
You can listen to all six episodes of Henpire for free on DIVA Box Office.