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’It’s perfect to adapt for the internet’: Writers Henry Roadnight & Adam Johnson on musical theatre web series Third Wheel

Back in October 2017, following a showcase of songs that summer, I was lucky enough to catch a short run of two brand new musicals: Fiver and The Dysfunctional Guide to Being a Third Wheel. As many of you may know, Fiver (written by Alex Ellison and Tom Lees) recently enjoyed a run at Southwark Playhouse to critical and popular acclaim – and the re-titled Third Wheel was due to see new life when the Coronavirus pandemic hit.

Not to be deterred, writers Henry Roadnight and Adam Johnson set about adapting their musical into an online production; they’ve been releasing 10-minute episodes over the past few weeks, starring previous cast member Aveen Biddle as Pam, alongside Jack McNeill as Sid, Ashleigh Johnson as Joanna and James Stirling as Smile with Kyle.

The series is now just over halfway through, so I caught up with Roadnight and Johnson to find out how they went about putting this plan into action.

What gave you the idea to adapt your musical in this particular way?
That’s a good question. It all started when the theatres closed down earlier this year; we had a really exciting venue booked to showcase our re-vamped version of Third Wheel. We didn’t want to get down in the dumps about Covid-19 and we suddenly thought ‘Hang on, this whole musical is about vlogging… it’s perfect to adapt for the internet!”

After a few plot-point changes here and there, and a light sprinkling of campness, it felt a bit like it should’ve always been a musical web series. Concepts that were really hard to convey in a theatrical setting became much clearer in the virtual format.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in putting this series together?
Haha!! Where to start? There have been so many challenges. For starters, nobody working on this project had ever done anything like it before, so we were all kind of jumping in at the deep end. We knew that writing for the screen would be different to writing for theatre, but it was still hard to account for that without a bit of trial and error first.

However, we must say that it was very exciting. We were lucky enough to be friends with some professionals, who have helped us out no end. Paige Collier on editing, Zoe Furness and Liv Donlan on animation, Mark Houston on music production, Lauren Simpson on graphic design, Ella Thomas on choreography, and Tom Ramsay was our dramaturge. They are true heroes, and we really couldn’t have done it without them.

Another challenge we had is trying to work out how on earth social media works. We are both complete social media-phobes. We struggle enough keeping in contact with each other… and we live in the same house!

Which is your favourite episode?
We think, in terms of watching, our favourite episode so far is Episode 4 – Paige has done an amazing job with the editing, but this one absolutely blew us away! She edits so intelligently with a great consideration of both the plot, and the musicality. She’s been our friend for years and we knew she was good, but had no idea just how brilliant she was. We also think that this episode shows off the acting skills of all our actors so well. They’re captivating. The way Aveen (Pam) and Ashleigh (Joanna) navigate the Zoom call confrontations are just cracking!

In terms of writing, Episode 2 was our favourite; we just really enjoyed writing the twist at the end of the episode where Pam realises that Sid and Joanna are actually in lockdown together. We could just already imagine the look on Aveen’s face and were really excited to see that scene come to life. We knew that she was going to make that really funny.

Would you ever want to adapt any other of your previous works for online broadcast – or come up with something new?

Like we mentioned earlier, we lucked out with Third Wheel because it naturally slotted into a web series format and, actually, we both think it even benefited! A few of our other shows, the other ‘Dysfunctional Guides’ as we’ve ended up calling them, have some pretty ambitious settings compared to Third Wheel, which is just people’s living rooms! We have written a musical called Barista, for example, which obviously is in a coffee shop, and we had an idea for a show called Ladz on Tour, which would be in a car…in France. So, maybe not that one either!

But that being said, we’d definitely want to come up with something new, specifically for online. I mean, obviously the situation with theatres at the moment is difficult, so we’re quite lucky that we can still write shows and get them out there and pursue our dream and all that stuff; it’s more of a challenge, but it’s so rewarding when we can pull it off.

Third Wheel is available to watch on the official website and YouTube – four of six episodes are currently online.

Tags: Adam Johnson, Ashleigh Johnson, Aveen Biddle, Ella Thomas, Henry Roadnight, interview, Jack McNeill, James Stirling, Lauren Simpson, Liv Donlan, Mark Houston, Paige Collier, theatre, Third Wheel, Tom Ramsay, Zoe FurnessCategories: all posts, interview, quarantine, theatre

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