Union Jack

     English Wordplay ~ Listen and Enjoy

Workshops for Writing, Producing and Acting Radio Drama, Documentaries and Comedy

Comedy

As far as I know Crisp and Even Brightly by Alick Rowe is the only play within the BBC's Radio Drama department, as opposed to their Light Entertainment department, to win the Sony Comedy Award.  The play purports to be the true story of "Good" King Wenceslas.

This, thematically, was one of a series of plays.  The first, Operation Lightning Pegasus, purported to be the true story of the siege of Troy and of the wooden horse, which was really the result of a monumental military cock-up by upper class twits on both sides.  Achilles was a closet homosexual with a fatal taste in elegant sandals.

The second was Odysseus on an Iceberg.  Odysseus was a rotten navigator.  He kept taking wrong turns and that's why he landed up on an iceberg and took twenty years to get home. Penelope wasn't worried. She loved having so many suitors.

Both these plays were subsequently given stage performances by many schools.  Comedy can be a very effective means of education.

Good King Wenceslas
PLEASE LISTEN

Crisp and Even Brightly points out the many absurdities and anomalies within the Christmas carol of Good King Wenceslas.   I often us the following scene from the play as an exercise when I am working with students on radio acting.  It provides an explanation as to how the carol came to be composed.

The Script

(SCENE 11. KITCHEN. FX: AN ALARM BELL TOLLS. SMALL CROWD GATHERS.)
LUDMILLA (QUEEN MOTHER): Is everybody here and will somebody have that bell silenced?  Is everybody here?

(FX: MASSIVE BANGING OF SAUCEPAN WITH SPOON)
CRONE: Quiet.  A bit of quiet in my kitchen.

(SILENCE)

I should think so.
LUDMILLA: Thank you Crone.  Vlad?  Good.  Otto and Sigmund.  Spy?  Good. Listen.  We have a crisis.  Listen. T he king is nowhere to be found and there is a page missing.
CRONE: Isn't that just typical.
LUDMILLA: What?
CRONE: Always the same; just when it gets exciting.  Just as you get to the best bit of the book.  Just when you are get to know -
LUDMILLA: (Over-riding) We are here to discover where he may have gone and what must be done; remembering of course that security is notoriously lax during the Christmas period and that Slavnik agents are known to be at hand.  Speak.

(THIS SECTION SHOULD MOVE VERY FAST)
OTTO: We saw him, Lady, up at his window.
SIGMUND: This evening, early on.
LUDMILLA: What were the conditions?
OTTO: Snow lying, Lady.
SIGMUND: Deep snow.
OTTO: Levelled and honed by the wind and the frost.
SIGMUND: Terrible frost, Lady.
OTTO: Cruel.
LUDMILLA: Suspicious circumstances?
SIGMUND: A poor man, Lady, hanging about.
OTTO: Said he was looking for wood.
SIGMUND: Then the King called down for young Mark.  That's his page.
CRONE: Mark the page? Nasty habit.
LUDMILLA: Thank you, Crone.
OTTO: Only the boy was down with us, you see, Lady.
HARRY THE SPY: That's right.  If you remember up he came to the room, while we were there. After we'd gone the King ordered him to the window and pointed out this so-called-though-now-infinitely-suspicious poor man.
CRONE: Oh, no.  'Peasant' he said he was.
SIGMUND: Who said who said who was?
CRONE: The boy said the King said the poor man was.
VLADIMIR: Certainly, Lady Ludmilla, it was upon the basis that the poor man was a positive peasant that I calculated the relevant provisions.
HARRY: Anyway, the King asked the boy who this poor man or peasant was and where he was from, what sort of house he had.
LUDMILLA: But how do you know all this?
HARRY: Listened through the key hole.  That's my job.  I'm a spy.
OTTO: The pageboy - he'd be able to give all this information because he'd heard us question the man.
SIGMUND: Yes.  Lives just over three miles away.
OTTO: Foot of the forest.
SIGMUND: Just follow the fence.
OTTO: Along to St. Agnes Fountain.
EVERYBODY: Where?
LUDMILLA: Anyway.
VLADIMIR: Anyway - flesh, wine and logs were required: pine logs.
CRONE: They were going to deliver it all and be back in time for dinner.
OTTO: Wait a minute -
SIGMUND: The walking woodpile?
OTTO: Right.
SIGMUND: We saw them leave the palace, Lady.  Just when the blizzard was starting up.
LUDMILLA: So what we have so far is this:

(THE BREAK-NECK PACE SLOWS DOWN NOW.  AS THE NARRATIVE IS TOLD IN THE PALACE, THE MUSIC OF THE CAROL SHOULD CREEP IN BEHIND THE WORDS)

Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the feast of Stephen, when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.  Brightly shone the moon that night - though the frost was cruel - when a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel.'
CRONE: Fuel?
VLADIMIR: Fuel.
HARRY: 'Hither page and stand by me, if thou knowest its telling: yonder peasant who is he?  Where and what his dwelling?'
OTTO: 'Sire he lives a good league hence'
SIGMUND: 'Underneath the mountain Hard against the forest fence'
OTTO: 'By St. Agnes Fountain.'
CRONE: Where?
VLADIMIR: 'Bring me flesh and bring me wine.  Bring me pine-logs hither.  Thou and I shall see him dine e'er we dine together.'
OTTO: 'Page -
SIGMUND: 'And Monarch -
OTTO: 'Forth they went;
OTTO/ 'Forth they went together
SIGMUND: ALL: 'Through the rude wind's wild lament

(STOP MUSIC)
LUDMILLA: 'And the bitter weather'.  Yes I see.  Guards!
OTTO/ Yes, Lady?
SIGMUND: LUDMILLA: Spy?
HARRY: Yes, Lady?
LUDMILLA: After them.  We shall await further reports.

(PAUSE)

Who was carrying this several hundred-weight of fatuous good will?
OTTO: The boy.
LUDMILLA: As I thought.  And who was leading the way?
SIGMUND: The King.
LUDMILLA: Precisely.  They won't have gone far.

Alick Rowe demonstrates an impressive ability to keep the jokes and the invention pouring out page after page, for seventy five minutes.  On the day Crisp And Even Brightly was broadcast, a friend driving up the M1 told me how many other drivers he had seen, roaring with laughter, and thus he knew who else was listening.

As an actor, it may be helpful to know how the advice I gave at the read-through helped us to win the Sony Comedy Award.  I told them that we were going to have a miserable three days in the studio and that on no account should they laugh; that if they fell about laughing, the listeners wouldn't.  "Play it deadly serious", I said, "Comedy is a very serious business."

The above is from Chapter 6: Character and Comedy from Writing for Radio 
by Shaun MacLoughlin, obtainable from www.amazon.co.uk (see below please).

Click here for Bargain Voice CD

Audio Workshops

Home Page


Please click on the images below to learn more about writing comedy and about Alick Rowe, who as well as writing inventive radio comedy, writes thrillers, books for children, and about his upbringing in a Hereford Pub.