Louise Jameson (Jackie Burchall)

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Updated: November 26 2015 10:59


Survivors audio dramas from Big Finish

Recorded an episode of Survivors today. For Big Finish. Wonderful tight script. Actors' dream

INTERVIEW series one

You are unique amongst the cast of the new Survivors audio adventures in having a near-miss association with the original series. Who would have thought that, forty years on, you'd get the chance to have another go?

Well I think that the interview that I did for Survivors back in 1974, even though I didn't get the part, is what got me Doctor Who and after that Tenko, because it was Pennant Roberts who interviewed me. My agent had said to me 'I don't want you to accept any more theatre. You’ve got to get a TV series now, to get you up there.' Which I thought was a good plan. With the naivety of youth, I just assumed that one would come along, as it did in the shape of Doctor Who. So there was Survivors, Angels, Joanna Lumley's part in The Avengers, and then Doctor Who. So it was a very determined decision only to go up for TV series, for a while.

Despite the disappointment of not getting a role in the show, did you watch the original series of Survivors went it went out?

On and off I did. I was working pretty solidly, so I didn’t get to watch much. I don't watch much television, actually. I tend to do box sets. I've watched about four or five episodes of the original Survivors now, and I'm knocked out with it, really. The high-definition shows all the wig gauze and all the horrible stuff like that. And it is extraordinary how well made up the girls are, given that there is no make-up or hair lacquer or anything available. They still kept them very beautiful. But I think as far as the series goes, it's fantastic. It's beautifully written, that first series.

I said yes to Survivors before I'd seen a word. I don't normally do that, but I trust Big Finish so much

Louise Jameson

Prior to the Big Finish Survivors audio dramas, had you worked with any of the original cast members previously?

I'd worked on stage with Lucy, in a play called We'll Always Have Paris written by Jill Hyem who wrote half of Tenko. That was at The Mill, Sonning, in 2010 [see reviews in The Stage, and the Reading Chronicle]. And at Big Finish, producer David Richardson was considering me for the new Survivors audios. I found out later that Lucy Fleming rang him up and said 'If you're going to bring in other regulars, could you bring in Louise Jameson, as I love working with her?' I was very touched and flattered by that.

Survivors is very different to the established Big Finish canon, isn't it?

Yeah. It's a very interesting choice, I think, for them. Because it is labelled by some as being 'science fiction' but actually, once the virus has done its stuff, it does turn into human drama. It is the sort of material that actors dream of.

Did you have sight of the scripts before you said 'yes'? Or was the idea sufficiently attractive to sign up without seeing a word?

I said yes before I'd seen a word. I don't normally do that, but I trust Big Finish so much. David Richardson has become a really good mate. And as you say, the series was so highly acclaimed too. I didn't see how it could fail, really. I think they’ve done a fantastic job with the soundscape. They say that the best pictures are on the radio, and I think that they’ve achieved that with Survivors.

They were just beautiful scenes that they gave to my character Jackie. Murdering her children, it's like Sophie's Choice, it's just a phenomenally difficult thing to live with. That's what the writers have done. Put the audience in possession of this secret but not any other of the characters. It's a very Shakespearean technique. So it's kind of 'epic drama'.

You would't be able to shoot those early scenes of Jackie's interaction with her 'sleeping' family on TV without immediately giving the game away, because of how the visuals would need to be framed.

Yes, I hadn't thought of that. You’re absolutely right. It's an incredibly clever use of the devices of the audio genre.

Jackie's journey is an emotionally gruelling and tough one. Did the producer or director talk to you about the 'tone' of her scenes – about what to reach for or how far to go in terms of your performance?

It is incredibly harrowing. And there were genuine tears even as I was talking into the mike.

Louise Jameson

No, they didn't. Because, in a way, that is my hallmark – being an emotional haemophiliac. I can do that: touch and connect with it. We call it 'connecting'. They wrote it specifically with me in mind. I was cast before she was written even. So I think that the writers had my 'voice' already there. I did request one thing. At the point where she recognises that her family is dead, or is brought out of her shocked state to realise that, I did say: 'can I overlap, can I play with more than one note, can we let it just roll and see what happens?', and director Ken Bentley said 'yes, by all means. Just open the floodgates.' So that’s what I did. At the end, he clicked on the mike and said: 'I know that was good, because David’s crying.'

When he was working on the soundscape, Nick Briggs texted me saying 'damn you, Louise Jameson, I have to keep stopping – I'm crying'. It is incredibly harrowing. And there were genuine tears even as I was talking into the mike. You still go to the same place that you go when you're on stage or in front of the camera.

I was very flattered, by all of them. That they had the faith in me to come up with the goods. If you don't really connect with that stuff, it just becomes melodramatic and a bit embarrassing. And John Banks has this lovely even heartbeat of a voice. And just keep the level and anchors it the whole time. In effect, that gave me more leeway to go for it.

When Jackie comes to terms with the awfulness, the true awfulness, of what's happened and what she's done, she decides that she's not ever going to mention it again. For the character, do you think that's the best approach? Or do you think that that's a really bad idea?

From a psychiatrist's point of view, it’s the worst thing that you can do. It's cancer-making. But I do completely understand where she's coming from. And also in this context everybody is tied up in their own grief. Everybody has lost somebody. Where do you off-load? Who do you off-load to? Your kids are dead, but everybody’s kids are dead. For my character to keep going over the fact that she killed her children isn't going to help anybody. Where can she go? Maybe later on in the story, this could be something to revisit.

As the story progresses, Jackie ends being embroiled again in more death and horror – and then, at the finale of episode four, Gillison wipes out his entire settlement. There’s not much emotional let-up is there?

No. There's not much comedy!

No. Not many gags! Do you think that Big Finish have got that overall tone right? That the series doesn't come across as 'too much'?

Once the virus has done its stuff, it does turn into human drama. It is the sort of material that actors dream of.

Louise Jameson

I think that they have got it right. Yes, I do. You know that they put the vagabond in the first run of the television series? The Tom Price character, who's there eating raws eggs on the farm in Gone Away, and telling lies to everybody. And I could absolutely see why he was there. But if I have a criticism of the series I would just say that that particular element felt slightly contrived. Things like him driving the Rolls Royce. But you do accept 'my god, you've got to have a let-up of some sort here!’ I think that rather than have a comedy 'theme' running through the drama, what you need is the odd little flip - like a rather wry, dark joke. But I accept that it's something that you’ve got to keep an eye on. You’ve got to have comedy beside tragedy. It's like having red beside green: both colours become more vibrant because they’re beside each other. The tragedy without the humour can become slightly ridiculous or hysterical.

The drama really benefits from that sort of contrast, doesn't it?

Yes. There's a lovely scene in the television series, in the episode Corn Dolly, where Ian McCulloch's character plays the guitar. It's a great little song. And it was a like a little oasis in the tragedy all around it.

When you got the chance to listen to the finished version of the first series of Survivors' audio adventures for the first time, what did you think?

I thought that the whole thing was just marvellous. I just thought 'yeah, you’ve done well there, girl!'. I texted everybody to say 'what a fantastic team effort'.

 

Big Finish - Survivors - series one: John Banks and Louise Jameson

 


Survivors: series nine

The ninth series of new Survivors audio adventures is available to buy (in CD and download formats) from Big Finish.

Survivors - Big Finish - series nine

"There's still great potential here, as the UK begins to emerge from the dark ages of The Death, for more stories set in this uniquely realised dystopia, should sufficient numbers of those who have yet to purchase copies of this extraordinary audio series belatedly recognise the error of their ways. If that doesn't happen, this will remain a stunning finale for what must be celebrated as a consistently compelling audio drama, 5/5"
Cultbox

Survivors: series eight

The eight series of new Survivors audio adventures is available to buy (in CD and download formats) from Big Finish.

Survivors - Big Finish - series eight

"This latest boxset delivers an impressive mix of large scale, high stakes and small scale, intimate stories which set in motion the events which will come to an explosive conclusion in the final set in this current run of post-apocalyptic dramas, 5/5 " - Cultbox

Survivors: series seven

The seventh series of new Survivors audio adventures is available to buy (in CD and download formats) from Big Finish.

Survivors - Big Finish - series seven

"At times harrowing, at other moments uplifting, and never anything other than completely riveting listening, this latest series of Survivors audios delivers drama that is simply unmissable. As the series leaves behind the timeline of the TV incarnation of the show, Big Finish's writers, cast and crew are all clearly brimming with fully deserved confidence. The two series of new Survivors audios coming in 2018 could scarcely be a more exciting or (in the best sense of the word) a more unpredictable prospect, 10/10" - Starburst

Survivors: series six

The sixth series of new Survivors audio adventures is available to buy (in CD and download formats) from Big Finish.

Survivors - Big Finish - series six

"After five extraordinarily well-received box sets, each of which offered a self-contained and themed collection of four episodes, the sixth series of Survivors audio adventures confidently takes a fresh approach... It's a liberating shift in format and, under the keenly judged direction of Ken Bentley, these scripts make exceptional use of the opportunity to tell diverse, if equally compelling, standalone stories, 10/10" - Starburst

Survivors: series five

The fifth series of new Survivors audio adventures is available to buy (in CD and download formats) from Big Finish.

Survivors - Big Finish - series five - cover  

"As it explores the highest stakes possible, this develops into the most thrilling and compelling set of stories in Big Finish's Survivors series to date: which, considering the exceptional quality of the drama in the preceding four instalments, is quite some achievement. This is extraordinary, exemplary human drama; by any standard, 10/10" - Starburst

Survivors: series four

The fourth series of new Survivors audio adventures is available to purchase (in CD and download formats) from Big Finish.

Survivors - Big Finish - series four - cover  

"Intelligent, literate and superbly scripted and performed, this is a post-apocalyptic drama of the highest possible calibre. Determined to avoid the predictable tropes of that genre, it invites its listeners to navigate a moral minefield in a way that few other dramas of this type would attempt. This comes recommended without reservation" - Starburst

Survivors: series three

The third series of new Survivors audio adventures is available to purchase (in CD and download formats) from Big Finish.

Survivors - Big Finish - series three - cover detail

Survivors: series two

The second series of new Survivors audio adventures is available to purchase (in CD and download formats) from Big Finish.

Survivors - Big Finish - series two - cover detail

Survivors: audio-book

A full-length audiobook of Terry Nation's Survivors novel (in CD and download formats) read by Carolyn Seymour.

Survivors: series one

The first series of new Survivors audio adventures is available to purchase (in CD and download formats) from Big Finish.

Latest updates

 

Series nine reviews added

Added: 13 July 2019

 

Series eight reviews added

Added: 9 January 2019

 

Series seven reviews added

Added: 14 January 2018

 

Series six reviews added

Added: 12 July 2017

 

Series five reviews added

Added: 20 December 2016

 

Series four reviews added

Added: 26 June 2016

 

Series three reviews added

Added: 18 December 2015

 

New interviews added

Added: 21 November 2015

 

Links

Original TV series (1975-1977)
Survivors remake (2008-2010)