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

What Makes a Radio Play?

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What are the differences between theatre, TV and film on the one hand and radio drama on the other?

The main difference is that in radio the language supported by sound effects, acoustic, music and comparative silence has to stimulate the creation of pictures in the listener's imagination, whereas in the other media the language will complement or counterpoint the pictures that are there independently.

Also in radio (and TV) unlike theatre and film you do not have a "captive" audience who have paid and may be embarrassed to leave.

The next excerpt is the beginning of a play that was broadcast in a "Radio Theatre Season".  It was part of a scheme to broadcast radio versions of the same plays that were also produced in stage versions in theatres throughout the United Kingdom.

The opening in the theatre consisted of the eight main characters from three different strands of the play's story, introducing themselves on stage to the audience.  On radio this would not have made an enthralling opening in terms of an involving story and it might have been difficult to take in so many characters.

This is how the radio version began.  Notice the use of music and how effective is the contrasting silent background, combined with the actor moving closer to the microphone.

The Script

Babylon has Fallen by John Fletcher

(HIGHLY DRAMATIC, VICTORIAN ORGAN MUSIC)
DAVID WORTH: One Morning the Lord God ravished I.  As I did sit at Sunday service, the sun full in the aisle, playing a voluntary upon the organ, a flare of raw light did hit my body, burnt so strong, I could see every bone glowing within my hands.  While all about I the world fell dark and dead.  And as He did ravish I, the Lord God implanted within I the seed of wisdom.  'Go, David Worth,' He said, 'leave your Babylonian captivity here in Bristol.  Seek out a place unsullied by human habitation and there build for me the Temple of the New Jerusalem'.
(FADE ORGAN MUSIC)
From that moment there has been no distraction in my life.  I gathered about I true companions in the Lord sworn to build the New Jerusalem.  At night I studied the holy texts of Revelation, seeking to understand the sacred principles of Divine Geometry.  Upon old ocean charts I found an island, the Keeling Coco Island, lying deep in the wastes of the Great Southern Ocean.  Myself, all my companions, my wife and children, my faithful servant Elisha, all scrimped and saved, husbanded our scarce resources, until one day last Spring after many hardships, us set sail from our native Bristol, down the Gorge of Avon and out upon the broad ocean, committing ourselves to the perilous deep.
(BRING UP AND SWELL SAILING SHIP CUTTING THROUGH HEAVY SEAS AND INTO THE NEXT SCENE)

Acting Notes

The Importance of Homework.
John Fletcher told John Rowe, who played David Worth,
that the character was remarkably similar to Ian Paisley.  
John found a very effective accent on the cusp of Northern Irish and Bristolian.  
Meanwhile Maureen O'Brien, who played David's wife, spent hours researching period Bristolian 
by listening to a hundred year old woman from Totterdown, Bristol.

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We recommend the following, which can ordered from Amazon.co.uk :

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.


The Well Tempered Audio Dramatist

We also recommend:   The Well-tempered Audio Dramatist by Yuri Rasovsky, a Guide to the Production of Audio Plays in Twenty-first Century America.  The book features chapters on every aspect of audio drama production including Project Management, Microphone Techniques, Casting and Sound Effects. You can read the entire text online at The United States National Audio Theatre Festivals..