Susan Hill was born in 1942 and was a keen radio listener from childhood, familiar with Under Milk Wood and The Dark Tower. She published several novels before beginning to write for radio. In her plays she explores the inner fears, loneliness and hopes of her characters. She hints at comedy amidst insecurity and mounting anguish. A number of her plays are Gothic chillers - but not the ones selected below for comment. (A list of her plays is given further down the page)
In her play "The Cold Country" four explorers are snowed up near the South Pole with no hope of getting away and no hope of rescue. The radio has stopped working, and as the days pass, they all get on each other's nerves. The resulting situation is grim - how will she resolve it? In her introduction to the printed version of the play, Susan Hill explains that ever since the news of the conquest of Everest in 1953 she has been fascinated by cold white desolate worlds. "The Cold Country" is anti- heroic, a study of defeat. The plays runs counter to the false glamour of Captain Scott's journey to the Antarctic. Elsewhere, Susan Hill develops the theme of the solitary and apparently anti-social individual's imagination as the only way through difficult situations. This theme is well suited for radio treatment.
"The Lizard in the Grass" presents the experiences of an imaginative adolescent girl, caught by chance in a convent school where she fails to get on with staff or pupils. The girl, Jane, is treated by one of the nuns as a deviant needing to be straightened out, and the teacher nearly succeeds in breaking her spirit. But she receives some affection from an eccentric old nun who is barely tolerated by her colleagues. Susan Hill is able to capture in this play the effect of different trains of thought cutting into each other. She gives credit to Guy Vaisen, the producer of all but one of her plays, for encouraging her, and also to Geoffrey Burgon, who wrote music for three of them.
"Consider the Lilies" combines honesty about suffering with optimism. The play concerns a young girl with a wasting illness. The central figure is a middle aged botanist called Bowman, who talks to Susanna, and there is a good sub-plot involving Bowman's eccentric second in command who schemes to get a job he wants.
Susan Hill said the following about radio rehearsals:
......I had never gone into the studio during the recording of any of my plays; I felt that the presence of the author, even when sitting mute in the background of the control room, would inhibit the producer and cast. But I was persuaded to go down for the production of "Consider the Lilies" only to find that, especially in the final scenes, the actors were having great problems with the interpretation of their parts, because of faulty writing. After long talks with the producer and others, several scenes at were rearranged, cut, or rewritten entirely in the margin of the scripts, during lunch and coffee breaks. I still adhere to my rule that the author must not interfere in any way with the work of producer, actors or technicians, but I shall not be absent from studio during any future recordings, because a radio playwright's education is a continuous one, and a day spent listening and observing, in silence, can teach you more than weeks in the study with a script-in-progress.........
I have written this after reading the book "British Radio Drama" by John Drakakis, CUP, 1981, which contains a chapter about the plays of Susan Hill and Dorothy L. Sayers...........N.D.
The End of Summer....1971
A Change For The Better....1971
The Summer of the Giant Sunflowers....1975
The Sound That Time Makes....1980
The woman in black....1993
Nigel Deacon / Diversity website
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