Lisa Bowerman is an actress, writer and part-time Bernice Summerfield alter-ego. But she is also director of - and barmaid in - Big Finish's Jago and Litefoot series of adventures. Starburst took the opportunity to corner her with the Mind Probe last month, to see what all the fuss was about...
Starburst: Hi Lisa - let's start with Jago and Litefoot. Who are they, where do they come from, what makes them tick? Imagine we've never come across them before...
Lisa Bowerman: Jago and Litefoot were characters that appeared in the 1977 Doctor Who story The Talons of Weng-Chiang, set in Victorian London. Henry Gordon Jago is a Theatre Manager and Professor George Litefoot is a pathologist. An unlikely partnership, you might think – but as it turns out a theatrical dream team. They are – of course – investigators of infernal incidents!
SB: What is it, then, of all the incidental characters over the years, that has made Jago and Litefoot so ripe for spin-off?
LB: Simply the clarity and sheer exuberance of the characters. Robert Holmes created a great double act. Far from being stereotypes though, they’re men that the audience have real empathy for – there’s a believable humanity to both of them. As I’ve said, they really are an unlikely partnership… but in this case opposites attract. There’s clearly an affection between them, and both of them react to danger in their own individual ways… but together they’re the perfect team. Also, it has to be said that the actors Trevor Baxter and Christopher Benjamin latched onto the characters like limpets – and never for a moment turn them into stereotyped panto characters. We as an audience simply adore them and care for them.
SB: And on that note, tell us about Big Finish's involvement in the spin-off series itself. How did it come about?
LB: It was actually David Richardson, Big Finish’s Line Producer, who thought that we should have a punt at doing a Jago & Litefoot Companion Chronicle. Although technically they were never ‘companions’ as such, they clearly struck a chord back in the ‘70s as there was talk at the time of a spin-off TV series for them. All credit to Jason Haigh-Ellery who, when offered the idea, saw the potential. Subsequently the Companion Chronicle The Mahogany Murderers was so brilliantly received, it seemed almost a no-brainer not to go for a full series.
SB: So, the box-sets are stylistically quite a departure from The Mahogany Murderers, the Companion Chronicle that started Jago and Litefoot's tenure at BF. Tell me why the decision was made to move from narrative to a play format?
LB: I think if you’re going to be doing all original stories, and a full four episodes, full casts are the only way to go. After all, the Victorian social landscape has so many wonderful characters to use that it would be a pity not to exploit that.
SB: And similarly, why box-sets rather than individual releases? Perhaps more importantly, how do the series arcs drive the writing and stories? Would that work less well if the stories were released over a period of months?
LB: You’d have to ask David Richardson the thinking behind this. On a personal level I think an individual play, although easily listenable to on its own – works so much better if there’s a narrative that runs through the entire series. There’s a neatness to it, and I also think we had such huge confidence in all the writers that we wanted to give the listener the full experience. Also, let’s face it, the design of the box itself is stunning. Alex Mallinson has done a superb job – who wouldn’t want to own something that beautiful?
David Richardson is the overall producer, Justin Richards is the script editor and together they’ve assembled a brilliant team of writers and sound designers who’ve all latched onto the characters and the era so fantastically – the box set idea really does work well as a whole.
SB: What do you think it is about Jago and Litefoot that works so well? What makes these series different from, say, the rest of BF's output?
LB: I’ve probably answered that already in terms of the characters, but also the Victorian world lends itself perfectly to audio. It seems odd to say that fog is important – aurally, of course, that’s impossible… but the implication of it gives all the stories an ambivalence. Are things really what they seem? It’s also not purely sci-fi, although there are elements of it. There are ghouls and ghosts, murderers, monsters and the damned well unexplainable round every dark alleyway corner – as well as all the social aspects to consider. Also, it has to be said, not only is it laugh out loud funny but can equally turn on a sixpence emotionally. You really care for these characters, and I’m delighted that it appears that the fans genuinely love them.
SB: As a director, what are the biggest challenges with Jago and Litefoot, compared with the other audios you've worked on? Specifically, how do you cope with directing yourself? Do you find you have to give yourself notes?
LB: It has to be said that there are no particular differences with the other projects I’m involved with. The only things that are really challenging with full cast dramas are the budget restraints and organizing everyone’s availability. I enjoy this series so much, it’s an absolute pleasure to work on.
Luckily, with Chris and Trevor on board, we’re able to attract a really high calibre of cast – which from a director’s point of view is three quarters of the battle. Cast well, and generally everything else just falls into place. Actually, the only challenge I can think of is trying to keep the volume of the laughter down in the green room!
As to directing myself, it’s a bit like doing that thing of patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. I always ask Toby Robinson and David to keep an ear out in the control room as I’m usually frantically trying to make notes on the script in the booth while listening to others, and sometimes it’s difficult to keep an ear out for myself!
SB: With series 3, we've seen Leela join the pair. How did that change the dynamic?
LB: Actually, I was a little worried at first as to how much the dynamic would change, and whether we’d lose anything; but I genuinely think it’s added to the mix. It’s always good to keep things fresh.
Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not into throwing the baby out with the bath water, and reinventing something for the sake of it – you just end up alienating the listeners. On this occasion, though, I really like it, and Louise is so great in the part. The chaps were delighted to see her back.
SB: Following Leela, are there any plans for Bernice, maybe, to show up in Victorian London? What would the dynamic between her and Ellie be like - apart from almost impossible to record?
LB: Well – it’s not been unknown for actors to spend their audio lives talking to themselves… think of all those clone stories! I’ve done a couple of Bennys like that, not to mention Toby Longworth in 2000 AD: Solo where he played all the characters, and also Katy Manning’s sterling work playing Jo and Iris Wildthyme in the same story, Find and Replace!! Benny’s already been down those Victorian cobbles – with Mycroft Holmes (in The Diogenes Damsel) although, come to think of it, Benny would have a jolly old time in the Red Tavern.
On this occasion, I’d like to see J&L keep in their own universe, with their own points of reference, villains and mysteries.
SB: Duncan Wisbey, the man of a thousand voices: what can you tell us about what's coming up in series four to challenge his amazing talents?
LB: His amazing talents will be on display, never fear… it’s for the listener to try to spot them! He’s one of the most talented and versatile voice artists I’ve ever come across… also, and I don’t know if people know this, he’s also a stunning musician. How irritating!
SB: And lastly, on series 4 - Professor Dark: what can you tell us about him?
SB: Lisa Bowerman, many thanks.