Lucy Gough began writing plays in 1986. Her first BBC broadcast was on Radio 3 in 1995 with Our Lady of Shadows, a poetic drama based on 'The Lady of Shalott'. Her radio credits are shown below, followed by an appreciation of her work based on a chapter by Martin Shingler of Stafford University:
2003 R4 Wuthering Heights, dram.
2002 R4. The Raft: A young girl's journey through drug withdrawl and despair in a prison. Repeated July 2003 R4.
2001 R4. Mapping the Soul
2000 R4. Judith Beheading Holofernes: about Gentileschi's painting, interspersed with comments by Germaine Greer. Being translated for broadcast on German radio.
1999 R4. The Mermaid's Tail: about a teenage girl who wants to be a mermaid, with documentary material from Marina Warner. This isn't a play in the usual sense of the word; it reminded me a little of the audio collage of Barry Bermange "Within Dreams" (q.v.).
1999 R4. The Red Room: Drama about Charlotte Bronte and the writing of Jane Eyre, with documentary material from Glyn Hughes.
1997 R4. Prophetess of Exeter: radio version of stage play "Joanna", 1989. Also broadcast as "Play of the Week" on World Service in 1998.
29 Oct 1996: Head: An urban Gothic comedy about a decapitated head, directed by Jonquil Panting and starring Lisa Sandovey and Tom Hollander. This is published in a volume of plays along with Our 'Lady of Shadows' and 'Crossing the Bar'.
1996 Crossing the Bar: A young remand prisoner hangs himself in his cell; in Limbo he finds a novice nun from the Middle Ages who has starved herself to death. Together they discover the power of the imagination... translated into Croatian and broadcast on Croatian radio. Originally a stage play; toured in 1994, including premiere at the Hay Festival.
1995 Our Lady of Shadows.R3. In "Studio Three" series. A radical adaptation of Tennyson's "Lady of Shallott". Here's the original story:
Elaine, The Lady of Shallot, also called the Fair Maid of Astolat, was a beautiful woman who lived alone in a tower on an island in the river flowing to Camelot. Held in her room by a curse which does not allow her to go out or look directly out of the window, she can only see the world through a mirror. She weaves tapestries, and uses the scenes in her mirror as the subjects. If she looks directly out of the window, the curse will cause something unspeakable to happen to her.
"There she weaves by night and day
"But in her web she still delights
When the handsome knight Sir Lancelot passes by her window, she is overwhelmed, and forgetting the curse, she looks out of the window. The mirror breaks, as do the threads of her tapestry.
"She left the web, she left the loom,
No longer held in the tower, she goes to the riverside and finds a boat, and on the prow she writes "The Lady of Shallot". But the curse has started working. She unties the boat and lies in it, and as she floats down the river she sings, but her blood freezes and she dies. The boat lands on the shore of Camelot. The people come out to see. In the crowd is Sir Lancelot:
"Who is this? and what is here?
Lucy Gough has written seven dramatic works for BBC radio; works that have been broadcast on Radio Three, Radio Four and World Service Radio. Four of these are plays and three are documentaries with dramatised scenes.
Her first radio play, The Prophetess of Exeter, was a dramatization of the life of her distant ancestor Joanna Southcott. This was followed by two radical adaptations of Nineteenth Century English Romantic poetry: Tennyson's 'The Lady of Shallott' in Our Lady of Shadows and Keats' 'Isabella, or the Pot of Basil' in Head. Three radio features followed. The first, The Red Room, depicts the genesis of Charlotte Bronte's 'Jane Eyre', supplementing a commentary by Glyn Hughes, Curator of the Haworth Parsonage. The second, The Mermaid's Tail, depicts a young woman's extraordinary voyage of self-discovery accompanied by a discussion of the mythology of the mermaid by Marina Warner. The third, Judith Beheading Holofernes, depicts Artemesia Gentileschi's creation of this famous Renaissance painting accompanied by a discussion of her rape case by Germaine Greer. Lucy Gough's most recent radio work, and fourth play, The Raft, was broadcast on Radio 4 as an 'Afternoon Play' on 27 May 2002.
These plays are full of anger and hope, pain and humour, prosaic detail and surreal fantasy, creating a heady mix. Lucy Gough has a thing about heads: heads without bodies, heads in the process of being wrenched from bodies. She writes her plays, she says, for a mind in the corner of the room and she also claims to keep a skull beside her writing desk.
Lucy Gough discovered Keats' 'Isabella, or the Pot of Basil' after it had been recommended to her by someone who knew she had a fascination for decapitated heads. After reading the poem she approached the BBC with the suggestion that they commission a piece from her about a head in a pot.
In "Head", the head in question is that of the central character's murdered lover, Enzo (Lorenzo), which is dug out of the earth and finds itself able to communicate, once he has regained control of his tongue. The head is already in a fairly advanced state of decay, being livid green, and once dug from the earth and washed in the stream continues to decay despite being put in the fridge and sprayed with hairspray in order to preserve it and fix the flesh to the bone. It has, however, lost none of its charm for the central character, Ella .
Enzo's head in the play Head is undoubtedly the most remarkable head that Lucy Gough has so far created but it is certainly not the only one. Mags, in The Raft, has a head filled with an ocean populated by her own soul clinging to a floating mattress, a chorus of singing shrouds, the corpse-laden and cannibalistic raft of the Medusa, an ugly mermaid and an ancient submariner in an oxygen bubble who calls himself Bobby Shaftoe. The effects of confinement in a prison-cell, the forced separation from her young son and a Smack addition have messed up her mind and forced her to occupy this world as her living reality.
In The Prophetess of Exeter, the central character, Joanna Southcott, has a head filled with pictures and voices, so much so that it makes her head hurt. She is a visionary, a medium through which the voice of God (or the Devil) speaks to the people, but she is not a saint in any conventional sense. Lucy Gough depicts her as a passionate woman; sensual, earthy and vital; jealous, ambitious, shrewd, clever and confident. She is both charismatic and enigmatic. A question remains about her, is she truly a prophet or a charlatan? In the play, she is accused of madness and also of being a witch, not only by her enemies but also by her closest companions.
The female protagonist of Our Lady of Shadows is a fifteen year old girl, Catherine, who has been locked in the tower of an abbey throughout her childhood to protect her from herself and to protect the nuns, to whom her father has entrusted her, from her dangerous ways. Her danger lies in her enquiring and scientific mind that has caused her to set fire to the basilica of the convent after performing an experiment to devise a method of turning sulphur into gold. This has led to her becoming an anchoress, incarcerated in a darkened and claustrophobic cell and watched over by a mute jailer - the 'Hag'. Catherine is separated from all contact with the outside world. Walled up in the tower, she has been forced to devote her confined and solitary life to illuminating manuscripts for the abbey. However, her intelligence and scientific know-how have meant that she hasn't been entirely cut off from the rest of the world. With the use of a lens, saved for her by one of the sisters, she has constructed a camera obscura that projects onto the floor of her chamber a panopticon view of the surrounding area; the village, abbey and countryside. By this means she is able to keep a watchful eye over the village inhabitants and the nuns in the abbey. It also provides her eventual means of escape since it alerts her to the approach of a knight on horseback who she lures to the tower in order to liberate her. Furthermore, his suit of golden armour enables her to not only escape the tower but also to embark upon a life of travel and adventure. As a character, Catherine is a young woman of knowledge, artistry and intelligence. She is resourceful, pragmatic, adventurous, ambitious and largely undaunted by her situation. Despite being unworldy and virginal, she is a survivor, both strong-willed and indomitable.
The radio plays of Lucy Gough need to exist beyond an individual broadcast. They need to be recorded, repeated, revived, disseminated, discussed, analyzed, documented, published and re-recorded. Any form of creative writing that is distinctive, innovative, challenging, imaginative, engaging and inspiring deserves to be circulated widely and preserved. The writers of radio plays are automatically denied applause or any other display of appreciation. It is very fortunate for those members of the radio audience who appreciate good radio drama that there are writers like Lucy Gough who love writing for the medium so much that they are prepared to continue with so little reward.
Lucy's website is at
where details of her stageplays and other work can be found.
Nigel Deacon / Diversity website
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