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

Microphone Technique

For many years, as the BBC's Senior Radio Drama Producer in The South and West of England, my brief was to encourage regional aspiring radio writers.

They would often ask me what I was looking for and not wanting to receive piles of derivative thrillers, historical romances or marital melodramas, I would reply that I wanted to be totally amazed and delighted by an entirely original piece of work.

I added that I was not looking for plays that began with a husband and wife arguing at breakfast, as I already had a plethora of these.

Hard of Hearing by Colin Haydn Evans was the exception that proved the rule.  I have lost my recording of it.  However the following transcript can be useful to participants.

Without any obvious exposition the opening two minutes tells us far more about the husband and wife than the equivalent opening of This Gun In My Right Hand Is Loaded.

Directors and actors: try working on the microphone technique and acting techniques to contrast clearly between TO SELF and ALOUD voice.

With the INTERNAL or TO SELF voice, speak thoughtfully and very quietly and close to the mic.  (Speak across the mic rather than into it, so you don't pop it).  For the ALOUD voice stand about an arm's length from the mic and pick up the surrounding acoustic.

Notice how Colin establishes the convention of the internal voice that he is to use throughout the play.

Incidentally both comic timing and the quality of Brian's sighs are crucial.

To the actress plaining June and to the director: Try the correct microphone technique on this scene and play back to give yourself notes.  If you feel that Brian could hear June's thought voice, then you will need to re-record.

The Script

ANNOUNCER 'Hard of Hearing' by Colin Haydn Evans with Xxx as June and Xxx as Brian.
JUNE: I was reading the other day of this man who used to talk to hedgehogs.  The only problem he said was that he never knew the meaning of what he said to them.
JUNE: Lyme Regis.  I think he lived in Lyme Regis.
BRIAN: Er-hum.
JUNE: He did not know the meaning of what he said to them.
BRIAN: June, are you trying to say something?
JUNE: Yes.
BRIAN: Over breakfast?
JUNE: It's Saturday, Brian.
BRIAN: Ruddy Mecca, if you ask me.  Light at the end of the week's tunnel.
JUNE: Didn't Maureen used to have a residential caravan near there?  It's in Dorset isn't it, Lyme Regis?  They used to spend the second half of September in it.
JUNE: He went on to say that the principle could be equally well applied to the Colorado Beetle.  Talking to them, I mean.  He felt it might be good news for potato farmers.
BRIAN: Toast.
JUNE: (TO HERSELF) He said grazing her eyes with his.
BRIAN: If you want any more there won't be enough.
JUNE: (ALOUD) I like people who do silly things.  I think it's comforting.
(TO HERSELF) If you don't say something soon you page three moron you're going to get this piece of cremated bread right up your pre-soaked shirt.  Fancy that do you?
(ALOUD) What Love?

It might be helpful in this instance to know how this half hour play ends.

As you may have gathered Brian is a DIY fanatic who is full of suppressed anger.  June sums up courage to tell Brian that the washing machine has broken down.

"When did that happen?" he asks as if it's her fault.

"When you last fixed it", she tries to reply in a mollifying manner.  For some reason only understood by a DIY fanatic he had adapted it to revolve with the door open.

He does not take his tie off as he pokes his head in and starts to tinker.  Of course his tie gets caught round the drum and of course it's June's fault.  He's so awful to her that she finally snaps and turns the electric current on.  The drum begins to revolve and with a hideous squawk from Brian the scene fades.

In the next scene June is visiting him in hospital.  At this point Colin gives an inner voice to Brian.  The crisis has started him thinking.

In the last scene that follows, Brian and June are back home in bed in during the afternoon.  Something they have not done at such a time for many years.

BRIAN: (TO HIMSELF) Being angry is being recognized. J une got the brunt of it, I suppose.  Kept asking, 'Why!?'  Never saw that if I knew why, I'd never have been like that in the first place.
JUNE: (ALOUD, ON ECHO FROM PAST) How do you mean: 'thinking of me'?
BRIAN: (TO HIMSELF) That's how the fondness goes, I suppose.  Nobody keeping their lives to themselves.  Trying to make others do their living for them.  Turning marriage into an encounter group and sex into a bloody space launch.  (PAUSE)  The snag is, I think, when you get it right, you never really know.  That leaves the door open for someone to tell you it isn't.  That way you end up with your head in a washing machine.  Brainwashing!
JUNE: (TO HERSELF) And why will I stay?  They say people grow lonely as they get older.  Then they need to turn to someone.  Forty four's not that old really.  You never know, he may turn out quite nicely in the end.
BRIAN: (TO HIMSELF) I never wanted to be understood.  Just liked.
JUNE: (TO HERSELF) Marriage isn't a miracle after all.  It's just two people looking for one, which makes it twice as hard to find.
JUNE: (ALOUD) There's still time before tea, Brian.
BRIAN: What?  Oh yeah.

More notes to actors:

You must know your character as broadly and as profoundly as you possibly can.
You must ensure that your speeches are truly an expression of her or his feelings and thoughts.   
Do not open your mouth until your thoughts and feelings are truthful, 
until you are truly inhabiting the character.  
Radio is a subtle and sensitive medium.  
The microphone is a lie detector.
It will not be cheated.

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We also recommend the following radio scripts: Polaris by Fay Weldon in Best Radio Plays of 1978, I Never Killed My German and Of the Levitation at St Michael's by Carey Harrison in A Suffolk Trilogy, The Village Fete by Peter Tinniswood in Best Radio Plays of 1987, Cigarettes and Chocolate by Anthony Minghella in Best Radio Plays of 1988, Death and the Tango by John Fletcher and Song of the Forest by Tina Pepler in Best Radio Plays of 1990 and In the Native State by Tom Stoppard in Best Radio Plays of 1991.  Sadly some of these scripts are out of print.  However you should be able to order them from your local library

We also recommend the recording of Lee Hall's wonderful first radio play, I Luv U Jimmy Spud.  Lee went on to write the screenplay of Billy Elliot.