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BEHIND THE SCENES with Kate Bland


Where did you first encounter the story of Princess Alexandra Amelie, and what drew you to take it on as a radio story

Deborah Levy was researching psychology and glass when she came across various stories, particularly one from Cervantes which included mention of a lawyer with 'glass delusions', believing his buttocks were made of glass - probably a physical manifestation of depression/melancholia. Her continued research into glass delusions took her to Princess Amelie. Deborah and I were talking about it and I'm sure, given her background as a fiction writer and actress, the idea of imagining the journey the princess would make - if she had a glass piano inside her - around her home, took hold in Deborah's mind with some ease

As the "radio person" on the production, what does the audio bring to the story, beyond the direct telling of it

My job as producer was to give The Glass Piano radio dimension, to give it a vivid aural sense on one level through the soundscape, but also to give listeners some interesting information and context. I tried to build a tension between the fact that this happened to real people in history, and how we might handle this 'case' mentally and physically today, by researching attitudes toward melancholia and medicine at the time and interviewing contemporary experts. And then I set all of that around the alluring/ compelling 'scenes' of the princess moving around the palace, as though she'd swallowed a glass piano. As producer I had to imagine what the audience might need to enter into the world of Amelie in the most interesting way

The production is equal parts documentary, historical, and speculative. It's about the Princess, but also about melancholia, and literature. How did you find a balance between all of these elements

I'm not sure the elements are balanced - I think the historical ideas, the glass delusions, medical history are all fascinating and we might have had more, but we also wanted to push the piece into something more ethereal

The music in The Glass Piano is as prominent a character as the Princess. Was it composed specifically for the feature

Yes, the music was specially composed by Chris O'Shaughnessy with elements from John Cage's Piano Music . I shared the narrative and asked him to consider instruments such as the glass harmonica, and to emphasize the piano sound, and the sense of her anxiety, in the background as well as foreground. We also discussed that the music needed to serve as Princess Amelie's voice on some level, but there would also be occasional comedic and ethereal moments supported through the scoring

You include several professionals (a psychoanalyst, glass artist, and medical expert) who ponder the Princess's delusion as if it were real. Were they immediately on board with the story, or did they take some convincing to "get" it

All the contributors were immediately on board. The most surprising was the glass maker who had been thinking about it before we arrived and spoke about Amelie as if he knew her, the entire time we recorded in his glass making factory - burly men, iron, fires and all

How did you arrive at the ending, with presenter Deborah Levy musing about what drink the Princess might have ordered if they'd met for one

This is Deborah Levy through and through - never afraid to bring the subject into her 'realm' and face it - him, her, them - as though they are her creation. Emily Watson, the actress was also willing and I think she said a creme de menthe if I remember - in the short time she had, she immersed herself in the character, so I believe Amelie would have drunk a creme de menthe on a good day!