The Drogheda accent at the centre of Radio 4’s topical Westminster satire, Lobby Land

 

‘If this show was made a few years back, Sam would probably be played by a guy, maybe a white guy from England,…now she’s a mixed-race woman from Ireland, talking about British politics’

By Colin Gannon

Lobby Land, which was first piloted in 2017 shortly after the Brexit vote, is a political sitcom that follows the lives of online journalists at a Buzzfeed-type publication called hottakes.uk.

In times of real-life political disarray, the show’s urgency is especially felt. Yasmine Akram’s character, Sam Peakes, Lobby Land’s lead character, is a political journalist always on the prowl for scoops around the corridors of Westminster.

Akram, who is mixed-race, believes her character, of whom she is immensely proud, might not have existed just a few years ago.

“I think if this show was made a few years back, Sam would probably be played by a guy, maybe a white guy from England,” she told the Irish World.

“But now Sam is a mixed-race woman from Ireland, talking about British politics. That’s hugely important and impressive to me because, as I always say, people move countries.”

For a comedy, the show’s weekly efforts to fuse real life political developments with fiction are admirable.

“When you listen, if you missed anything in the news that week – it’s going to be covered in the show,” Akram explains.

“So, it’s doing quite the public service,” she adds.

Akram was born in the United Arab Emirates to an Irish mum and dad from Pakistan and grew up in Drogheda, Co Louth.

She moved to London where she trained as a classical actress at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and went on to land roles in TV series including Stella, Asylum, Unforgotten, London Irish, Common Ground, and Peep Show.

Akram, best known for playing Benedict Cumberbatch’s girlfriend in BBC series Sherlock, is enjoying a busy career, but current role has proved invaluable – and not just for her acting profile or filmography credits.

Before the show began recording, Akram admits that she had scant interest in politics.

Ashamed of how little she knew, she is glad that the show – largely the work of main writer and producer Jon Harvey – has forced her to “grow up” and learn more about politics.

Is there anything besides a general awareness — the nature of Westminster politicians, the mechanics or limits of modern journalism — that she has learned from recording Lobby Land?

“It’s brought home to me how – now that we have news available 24/7 – the appetite for that news has grown and is kind of insatiable,” Akram says.

“And for Sam, getting the new story, the exclusive, is life or death. Her job is always on the line.”

Voice-acting and TV acting have their differences, of course. Delivering lines without the crutch of body language makes writing for radio more difficult, Akram says.

With Lobby Land, there is a live audience to keep the actors’ performances in check.

“That’s when you realise if the joke is more visual and things you think could work, don’t,” she says.

“The only thing I try to remember is that if you’re saying lines in quite a monotonous way, it will get boring for the person at home listening, so I try and make it as interesting vocally as I possibly can.”

Akram is currently keeping a very busy schedule. Later this year, she has two TV series hitting our screens: Gold Digger for BBC, and season 2 of The Reluctant Landlord, which is a Sky production.

She also has many other projects in the pipeline.

In Akram’s words, she’s been “writing like a mad woman this year”.

She’s just finished recording a four-part sitcom for BBC Radio 4. She is working on a pilot script with Witchery Pictures called We, Khan – a comedy-drama based on her life growing up in Drogheda as “one of the only mixed-race, single-parented kids around”.

In addition, she is also working on her second short film, titled Walking in Nature, which she intends to direct and star in.

Outside of writing, she hopes to work with Darren and Colin Thornton again, who adapted a play of Akram’s into the 2015 movie A Date for Mad Mary.

Despite her tight schedule, Akram, who lives in London, tries to go home to her native Louth whenever she can.

“That isn’t as frequently as it used to be,” she adds. “But I keep in close contact with my nearest and dearest. Skype is a great auld invention.”

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