The following remarks on how to write good radio drama briefly appeared on the CBC website a few years ago. I reproduce them here for budding radio writers:
Ten Tips for Radio Dramatists
by Gordon House
1. Tell a good story. Radio Drama thrives on cracking good narratives. Whether you're writing a tragedy, a comedy, a deeply personal piece of autobiography, or a play to change the world, a strong storyline will keep your audience listening.
2. However, don't make the story too complicated, with too many themes, characters and plotlines.
3. Get under the skin of your characters. Get to know them really well. Each will have his or her own individual speech mannerisms. Don't have them all speaking in your tone of voice.
4. Don't - in the interests of furthering the plot - have characters telling each other information they already know!
5. Use the four building blocks of radio drama: speech, sound effects, music and silence. Decide exactly what 'sound picture' - a mixture of these four elements - the listener needs to hear in each scene. Will a scene be enhanced by having music under it? Will a pause between speeches add to the dramatic effect?
6. But if in doubt, keep it simple - the play stands or falls by the words you have written; not the number of music or sound effects cues.
7. Vary the pace and length of your scenes, as well as their background acoustics and 'location'. A radio play which has six ten-minute scenes, each set in a dining room, is likely to be less effective than a play which varies its scenes and settings.
8. Presentation is important. Script Editors (and play competition judges) are better disposed towards neatly-typed, professionally presented manuscripts. Type all directions and sound effects in capital letters (e.g. HAMLET'S GARDEN. HAMLET IS DIGGING FOR POTATOES. IT IS RAINING.) and dialogue in lower case. Leave a space each time a character speaks.
9. Enjoy writing your play. If you enjoy it, the chances are that other people will, too.
10. Feel free to ignore some of these tips. All the best playwrights break 'rules' from time to time. But have a good reason for breaking them.
m.f.: .....I suspect the writer knew who was going to play the parts. It just felt right.
l.r.m.:...........Loved it, suppose the resolution was that he goes for the money and fame plus the wishes of the woman who loves him and never mind the consequences or indeed the truth.
...and finally: .........
...... this is director Gordon House. Thanks to all who have fed back comments on "Marmalade".
I thought there were a couple of points raised that were worth further discussion. It was indeed a fabulous cast, and we were very lucky our first choices were all available at the same time. But contrary to m.f.'s suggestion, no writer can ever be sure beforehand who will be cast in a radio play. Actors (and their agents) rarely accept a radio part more than 2 or 3 weeks before a recording, in case a more lucrative film, tv or stage offer should come their way. Radio Drama is some way down the economic pecking order!
That said Christopher (the author) and I always wanted Bill Nighy in the leading role (we had both worked with him before) and were very lucky to catch him between films. He has always been a terrific supporter of Radio Drama.
As for the resolution, l.m.f. is absolutely right - at the beginning of the play Patrick reads the opening para of his novel in the third person - in the final speech he reads it in the first - thereby letting us know that he will take the money/fame/sex option and to hell with the consequences!
2 Apr 08. By Peter Soutar, afternoon play. Frightening evocation of what memory loss can do. Ally and Joe were married; she cannot remember him. She asks who her friends are, and why they never visit; he says 'they do'. Two-hander with Juliet Stevenson and Alex Jennings, directed by Gordon House. There is an earlier play on the same topic: "Deficits", by Derek Lister. (q.v.)
THE GOALKEEPER'S BOO-BOO....2003
By Peter Tinniswood. Recorded after his death, this play introduces us to Raymond Lancaster, another of Tinniswood's eccentric comic creations. Raymond's humdrum existence is salvaged by his rich fantasy life, in which football predominates. This is a well- crafted play; interesting but not memorable. The cast: Ian McDiarmid, Paul McCrink, Helen Longworth, Fiona Clark, Barbara Marten, Everal Walsh, Stephen Thorne, Alan Green, Mark Chatterton; directed by Gordon House; original music by Nina Perry.
TWO IN TORQUAY....2003
A middle-aged man and a middle-aged woman talk politely in a Torquay hotel. But neither of them is quite whom they appear to be. With Judi Dench as Miss Plunkett and Alan Bennett as Mr. Mortimer. Directed by Gordon House. This short play was originally written in 1998 for Judi Dench and her late husband Michael Williams; they performed it at the National Theatre. It has not been broadcast before.
Alpha, by Mike Walker (R4, 2102, 6 Jul 02) made a superb Friday Play: a scientist has built a computer so all-knowing that it appears to have an independent life of its own. In comes the representative of organised religion (David Calder as Father Marquez) to put an end to it. A predictable church response, perhaps. A few centuries ago the established church ordered the bones of John Wycliffe to be dug up and burned because he made the bible intelligible to ordinary people. One wonders what church leaders of today might do if computers became intricate enough to offer advice on moral dilemnas. With computer memory doubling every eighteen months we might not have long to wait. This was another first class play directed by Gordon House.
THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY....2000
Dramatisation of Wilde's famous novel by Nick McCarty. With Jamie Glover, Ian McDiarmid and Steven Pacey. Directed by Gordon House. Broadcast as the Classic Serial in two one-hour episodes.
SEASON'S GREETINGS 1999
By Alan Ayckbourn; produced by Polly Thomas; stars Geoffrey Palmer, Frances Barber, Bill Nighy and John Sessions and broadcast on 26/12/1999.
The Polly Thomas version was broadcast again on BBC7 on 26.06.04 and the Gordon House version, also on BBC7, on 19.12.04. Gordon House introduced his production of the play on 26 Jun 04 but the technicians put out the Polly Thomas version by mistake - hence the repeat later in the year. .......many thanks to Tony Mitchell for sorting out the confusion about these broadcasts.
CRIBB AND THE BLACK ....1999, 60m, WS and R4
Dramatisation by Steve Walker of the true story of Tom Cribb, world champion boxer in the bareknuckle era, and the challenge by Tom Molyneaux (Tom the Black), an American slave who eventually became a free man. With Shaun Parkes as Tom Molyneaux, Pat Roach as Tom Cribb. Also stars Burt Caesar, James Cosmo, Robert Bathurst, Cecilia Noble, Justine Midda, William Roberts, Justine Miller, Chris Emmett, Harry Myers, Ben Crowe, Giles Fagan, Chris Pavlo. SM Peter Ringrose. Directed by Gordon House.
THE DOLPHINARIUM ....1996, 60m
By Steve Walker. A famous explorer discovers a plot to turn the human race into mindless automata- by destroying all the dolphins on the planet ...with Michael Cochran as Sir Hartley, Bill Paterson as Duncan McNab; also stars Mardav Sharma, Ed Bishop, Bryony Glascoe, Avril Clarke, Helen Horton, Michael Tudor Barnes. SM: Graham Harper, production assistant Nicky Hildebrand; directed by Gordon House.
SEASON'S GREETINGS 1985
By Alan Ayckbourn. With Peter Vaughan, Ronald Herdman, Maggie McCarthy. Produced by Gordon House. Rebroadcast 1994.
Just Between Ourselves....1983
first broadcast on the World Service in 1983, rpt. Radio 4, 12 Feb 1984 (Afternoon Theatre) & BBC7, 19 June 2004, 12:30 - 14:00, introduced by Gordon House:
..................."I've lost count of the number of Alan Ayckbourn's plays I've produced on radio, but one of the first I ever worked on was "Just Between Ourselves", a play where each scene takes place on the birthday of one of its five central characters. This is a play in which a man literally drives his wife mad. The scene in which this deeply depressed woman begs for help and he, quite incapable of understanding what she is talking about, asks her to draw up a list of household jobs to be done, is one of the bleakest scenes in the history of English Theatre. Just Between Ourselves is a great play, but shorn of the comforting laughter a theatre audience produces, it beggars belief to call it a comedy, particularly on radio."
PROFESSIONAL FOUL. ....1979
The famous play by Tom Stoppard. Produced by Gordon House. With Peter Barkworth.
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