An insight into the creation of Unseen: An Assistant Producer’s perspective

A group of 8 people sitting around a large table in a modern rehearsal space. There are six women and two men, who are all varying ages. The picture is taken candidly as they are engaging in a table read. From Ben, who is wearing a blue T-shirt and has a beard, clockwise we have Ben Wilson, Georgie Morrell, Esther Irving, Tam Gilbert, Tafsila Khan, Louise Hall, Ian Rattray and Anna Clarkson.


“We’d be delighted to offer you a place on the devising team and the Assistant Producer role if you’re still interested.”                                                             

Nice one.

My reply shot back: “Yes please, definitely!” 

Then, the inevitable doubt. Me? They seriously want my skills – am I good enough?

A couple of weeks later and I was on Zoom with Refuge, for an introductory crash course on understanding the different forms domestic violence can take. Then, a little bit of time spent helping research accommodation, and suddenly, I was one of a team of six, sitting in a rehearsal room in London, poised and bursting with ideas on day one of twelve. 

I love being across all aspects of a project and knowing the minute details of every arrangement; on small community arts teams hopping from hat to hat during breaks as required, is the norm. However, in this instance, I had been slightly anxious about the dual roles of assistant producer and devisor, if potentially my time was to be split between both each day. With past experiences on larger projects, one side inevitably overshadows the other and I had memories of being stuck outside organising transport and on one occasion, even being told to go on a break, whilst creativity bubbled away behind a closed door. But Louisa Sanfey, the Creative Producer, reassured me that this would not be the case with Unseen, and we agreed that my administrative tasks would solely take place in the weeks between rehearsals. This balance proved to work very well and enabled me to fully focus on each aspect, often volunteering myself for more tasks as I knew how much organisation was involved. 

And so, back to the devising process. Week one flew by. Ben Wilson, the Director, quickly established a relaxed, yet safe and collaborative environment and we gelled as a group, with the usual ‘getting to know you’ exercises and warm-ups and having juicy conversations around the topic in general. We talked about radio dramas that inspired us and delved into the Unseen Report itself, pulling out key points that resonated. It felt important not only to tell the stories of survivors, but to highlight the additional complications faced by visually impaired survivors – the lack of accessibility and awareness by organisations making the challenge of talking about or leaving an abusive situation even harder. Throughout the entire process we constantly came back to this, questioning whether our play truly did the report and its respondents justice in this regard. 

By the end of the first three days, we had talked through and decided upon a structure for our drama, fallen in love with our protagonists Lucy and Joli, created their backstories and workshopped scenarios – some of which stayed and some, we wished a sad goodbye later down the line. 

At the end of the third day, I was asked to run the rehearsal room at the start of the second week as Ben would be absent. We agreed we would have a Zoom the following week to discuss and luckily for me, he liked my ideas and gave me the green light. 

I have several project highlights, and this day was one of them! We continued conversations, hot-seated, improvised and took part in a wonderful writing workshop with Martia Bevan, who gave us some fascinating exercises, two of which influenced my ‘Shards of glass’ sequence which ended up in the final script. That said, it was a relief to hand the reins back to Ben the following day and the pace picked up speed as we approached our halfway point. 

My previous devising experience has often involved working with groups on a theme or story for an extended period, really getting to know characters and generating material, which the team turn into a script for rehearsal. I really enjoyed the different collaborative process on Unseen which took varied forms each day. Often, we would be given a particular task or scene to work on for 20-40 minutes, sometimes writing or improvising with a partner or small group and sometimes solo writing time to write a scene or pick one up from a previous day to edit. 

It was this element that as a writer I found particularly challenging. I tend to work slowly, polishing and editing as I go, never moving on from a sentence until I am happy. So, it felt hard on occasion to relinquish a scene that I had started to write initially, or improvised and recorded, only to find it being given to someone else to write up! But this is of course the nature of collaboration and for me was a valuable learning experience. 

We would spend time as a group working out the order of scenes, talking through each character’s journey and sifting through the quotes and stats I had compiled from the report as one of my production tasks. Thus, by the end of week three we had a finished script – not completely in the right order but getting there! The only trouble was, because we had all had a hand in various scenes, sometimes it felt like one character had many voices, so it was agreed that we would pass our final draft to an editor to through-line. 

Our final two weeks were sprinkled with visitors, each offering a highlight. We met with the sound designer Ian Rattray, who brought with him a collection of drones, quotes, and audio we had asked him to create and gave a flavour of our imagined ‘sound waves’ – a day I had looked forward to with much anticipation – I love a good soundscape! 

It was a privilege to meet Saliha Rashid, a VI survivor who shared her story with us and told us about the inaccessibility of many refuges. Also, Ingrid Sanfey, from Rising Sun Domestic Violence & Abuse Charity who gave us valuable insight into how telephone help lines operate and even improvised a call. It was these details that helped us ensure that our script was as authentic as possible. 

And my overall highlight? Our read-throughs on our last day and sharing our baby with invited guests. We all felt very emotional and proud of what we had created in just twelve days.  

It felt slightly daunting walking away at this point, knowing that for many of us, the next time we heard the script would be when the drama was released! What would be cut and what would remain – would our favourite lines still be there?  

I need not have worried. Listening to Unseen for the first time (and, if I am honest, two or even three subsequent times) brings all the emotion flooding back. It has been an honour to collaborate on this journey. And we all had input in many of the scenes. There is some beautiful writing by each team member, the mix of comedy and pathos we wanted from the start and some haunting audio all help. I hope to raise awareness of the fact that 188,000 – one in twelve disabled people will have experienced domestic abuse in their lifetime. 

Tam Gilbert, Assistant Producer of Unseen 

March 2024 

Unseen is now available to listen to here.

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