21 June 2021

Graduates star in Song of the Reed

Molly Naylor
Molly Naylor 
Photo: Dave Guttridge

Molly Naylor and Ella Dorman-Gajic are UEA graduates and stars of the new BBC Radio 4 drama Song of the Reed written by our very own Prof Steve Waters. Molly graduated with a MA in Scriptwriting and, alongside writing and performing, now lectures on the subject here at UEA. Ella graduated in 2019 with a BA in Scriptwriting & Performance and, as well as acting and writing, she is a theatre marketer. We caught up with them recently to get their thoughts on what it was like recording on-site at Strumpshaw Fen and working with Mark Rylance and Sophie Okonedo.

Mark Rylance and Sophie Okonedo were talking about the Oscars, and at the same time Karen Hill (who I know from casting her in my play a few years ago) turned to me and said: 'I can't wear high-waisted jeans anymore cause they make me feel like a sausage' and I thought, yes, this conversation is definitely more my speed.

What attracted you to the role?

Molly: I love Steve's writing, so being part of this project was such a treat for me. I said yes without even looking at the script, such was my trust in him. Once I'd read the script I was even more excited - my character is super fun to play. She has a way of looking at the world that I really relate to. Taking on her voice came naturally. 

Ella: I'm a big fan of Steve, as both a person and a writer, so when I heard his producer was casting for his new radio play, I leapt at the opportunity. I recently did some voice acting in 2 new audio plays I had written for an online festival, and I really enjoyed the experience. So I was really keen to do more work in the audio medium. 

What was the on-location recording experience like?

Molly: Windy and wild but great fun. I love recording for radio as there's no focus on what you're doing with your face or body, which makes the whole thing much more relaxing to me than screen acting. 

Ella: Strumpshaw Fen is a breathtakingly stunning place and I felt so blessed to be recording there. The first day I recorded the weather was gorgeous - sun was out, lake was glistening. So, I managed to get a real sense of the location whilst we were recording which immediately made what Steve had written tangible. On the second day of recording, the weather wasn't as good, but - bizarrely - it fit perfectly with the weather that Steve had scripted - it was as if the stars had aligned!

How does it feel to be involved in a radio drama with some big household names?

Molly: There was a moment in the green room where Mark Rylance and Sophie Okonedo were talking about the Oscars, and at the same time Karen Hill (who I know from casting her in my play a few years ago) turned to me and said: 'I can't wear high-waisted jeans anymore cause they make me feel like a sausage' and I thought, yes, this conversation is definitely more my speed. 

Ella Dorman-Gajic
Ella Dorman-Gajic
Photo: Dave Guttridge

Ella: I've watched both of them [Mark Rylance and Sophie Okonedo] on screen for years, so the experience was both totally surreal and utterly incredible.

How big a role do you think the arts can play in conservation and informing our approach to tackling environmental issues?

Molly: I think we're going to find out over the next few decades. There are so many brilliant artists and writers tackling these subjects and I have hope that their work can inform practical change or push for new legislation. At the very least I believe it can contribute to local and global conversations and the growing awareness about our environmental crisis.

Did you ever visit Strumpshaw while studying at UEA?

Ella: Unfortunately, I didn't - I had not actually heard of it. I really wish I had done because it is such a beautiful place. I hope that the radio drama encourages more people from UEA and Norwich to go visit. If you're reading this now - go go go!

For more about Song of the Reed, including from Steve Waters, please see our UEA longform piece Wild Tracks.