Ryan King reflects on what he’s learned since writing his first play for DDF last year, and the research and development process behind his audio drama, ‘The Republic of Eric’, a conflict-filled exploration of power, family and property.

Once again, I find myself in the very privileged position of being a DDF writer. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to showcase my work, especially during these trying times. DDF 2021 is shaping up to be a great success, but to tell the story of The Republic of Eric, we must first rewind to DDF 2020.

It is no secret that when I wrote my first play, I had no idea what I was doing. I had written a screenplay for a feature film, but shoehorned it into a play script because I knew that was the only way I could actually produce it. At this point, I had only ever seen one play in my life (excluding panto), and that was three years ago as part of GCSE English. Writing a play was an extremely arrogant move on my part, but I do not regret it. I had a lot of fun, and it is what got me into theatre. A bit of a strange route into theatre, but there you go. I have since watched and enjoyed many DST productions, and I feel I now have at least a basic understanding of the medium. 

Writer and director of 'The Republic of Eric', Ryan King

At last year’s drama festival, we got to have dinner with the judges (remember restaurants?). One of them mentioned that they lived in a river boat and I immediately thought that that was a good location for a play: a single, closed site that could provide plenty of conflict and imagery, all while being a statement about the current property climate. Then he said that he was already working on something about it. Damn. Now I couldn’t do it. However, it did give me the idea of starting with a location and writing a play around that.

Still thinking of water, I remembered the existence of Sealand. Sealand is probably the most famous micronation, standing in the North Sea outside British territorial waters (until British territorial waters were extended in 1987). I loved the setting; it could provide all the conflict and imagery I wanted. After a quick google search, I could find only one other play about micronations, so the material was relatively original. I had the setting; now it was time to research.

I started by watching an eight-part Norwegian drama about the oil industry in the North Sea, and a few videos about how oil rigs work and what life is like within them. Unfortunately, looking further into micronations, I discovered that Sealand is situated on a disused military fort, and not an oil rig, as I had previously thought. I had wasted quite a lot of time. My research continued – this time on micronations and actual nations – and the nation-building process. Then, it was time to write.

The play is about the three children of a micronation founder, deciding what direction to lead the country after their father’s death. The country in question is simply a residential house. At one point, I wrote a version set on a military fort in the ocean, but I found I ended up mostly writing about the struggles of living in the middle of the ocean. I don’t want to give too much away, so I will leave the description there.

When Lockdown III was announced, I had to decide how to move forward with this play. I was initially thinking of doing a rehearsed read though, but my assistant director Toby Saunders suggested a radio play. This was a fantastic idea. A radio play feels more like a finished product, and it didn’t take many script changes to make it work in the new format. Annoyingly, I think it may even work better as an audio drama than as a play. There I was congratulating myself on understanding the medium of theatre, and it turns out I still have no idea.

The Republic of Eric premieres at 19:00 on 2nd February 2021, and is available to stream on the Durham Student Theatre Youtube channel.