Script Room latest: stage

Monday 20 May 2013, 12:40

Paul Ashton Paul Ashton


 Some people have always wondered why a broadcaster would accept stage plays when it has no intention (or even means) of producing them. Once in a blue moon we receive a stage play that would work for radio – such as Mike Bartlett’s Not Talking. But beyond this, the simple answer is – strong stage plays can be a great calling card script that showcases a writer’s talent, ability, and voice.

But why? My own pet theory is that there’s something potentially uninhibited (and uninhibiting) about writing a stage play. Screenplays and radio scripts are formatted for the purposes of preparing and executing production, and some of their requirements are specific to that medium/form alone. But when you write a stage play, you could be writing anything, from extreme naturalism, realistic sets and traditional theatres, to extreme expressionism, non-realist staging and site-specific performance - and everything in between. Read a selection of stage plays from different times/cultures – they can look very, very different from one another

It can be the case that screenplay and radio script formats build immediate walls around a writer’s ideas – and if they are not experienced or ambitious or maverick enough in their thinking, those walls rise up very quickly and very rigidly. What you get then is writing that is being hemmed in by script format – that is stifled.

So – what have the readers noticed about the stage plays this time around? Quite a lot of comic plays – and plays that were sometimes funnier than the sitcoms we received (perhaps precisely because the humour was character driven and not stifled by the demands of ‘sitcom’). Plays that felt freer and more diverse in terms of what they are trying to do, and how they are trying to achieve it. Plays that read well. Plays with sparky dialogue.

But also, plays that were heavy, laden with dialogue, where nothing really happens. Plays without story. Where the story is intellectually/cerebrally conceived, rather than emotionally driven. Plays that didn’t really manage to showcase what was distinct about the writer’s voice – often because they felt distinctly influenced by a very specific playwright. Plays where the reader just didn’t really know what the writer was trying to say/communicate – and therefore why the writer was really writing it. And following on from this – what is it that the writer is trying to say that is best expressed through theatre as opposed to any other medium?

So, in many ways, the same potential strengths and problems you might find in any other kind of script. Is it worth writing/reading stage plays? We’ll have to wait and see further down the line if (and how) writing a stage play has made a real difference to any of the writers who progress past the first sift stage. But the answer is yes – because if it is even half as good as Not Talking, then we definitely want to see it.



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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Re: Mike Bartlett’s Not Talking.
    "Sorry, this episode is not currently available on BBC iPlayer Radio". - Urgh!

    I wish the Beeb would consider a pay-as-you-listen service to access its archive of radio drama. I'd pay good money to hear some classics from the 70s - 90s.

    The writing style has changed significantly since the days of "Sherry, darling?" , but there's still a lot that can be learnt from listening to a Daly, Gerry Jones or Giles Cooper.

    Have a word. ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Oh blimey, I notice from the twitter feed that 'they' have been looking at TV Drama scripts today :(

    I'll get me coat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    @ Anthony - the BBC is looking at ways to unlock the archive. In the meantime, I think the script for that play is published as part of Mike's collected plays (which is why we can't publish it here)

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Hey Paul - just wanted to check, at which stages of the reading process do you start sending out rejections/feedback etc. For example, now the comedy scripts have all been read have you sent out rejection notes to those that haven't got past the sift, or do you wait until all genres have been read?

    Thanks, Al.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Ref Anthony's comment - in similar vein - the one week retention for radio dramas on I-player really isn't long enough. For example, I will be on holiday in the Outer Hebrides this Saturday, not back until 8 days later, and will miss the Saturday afternoon drama both live and on I-Player. I'm really disappointed as this one is a particular "must listen" for me. I guess it will re-appear on Radio 4 Extra sometime, maybe in about 5 years, but who has time to keep scanning the schedules? Would love to hear a repeat much sooner than that.

    And on the subject of repeats. The Saturday classic serial repeat of the previous Sunday's broadcast gives longer window. Could other really worthwhile dramas be repeated in some dead of night hour so that the window is likewise longer? I feel sure that these plays deserve it. So much work goes into them - then a one-hour broadcast, a week on I-Player and apparently consigned to oblivion.

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    Comment number 6.

    @ jane - you wouldn't believe how complicated all of this is ...

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    Comment number 7.

    Why don't you just take a radio on holiday with you?

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    Comment number 8.


    I think I would believe, having just spent some time on the back-list section of the Radio Drama archive on the I-player.


    I could do, but on holiday, it's quite anti-social to switch off mentally from one's companion and tune in to a radio show. I would be annoyed if interrupted by chit-chat. I will never be alone.

    I could buy an I-Pad and listen in the middle of the night, but somehow that seems a bit extreme. In any case, I regard this writing thing as work, and listening as background work. Holiday is a different atmosphere.

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    Comment number 9.

    It's interesting (well it is to me), that only 8% of submissions were stage, yet nine out of thirteen opportunities on the opportunities page are for theatre.

    Jane - nothing comes between me and Jezza Vine.

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    Comment number 10.

    @ fadein - and so many of our best screenwriters came from (and/or still write for) the stage - Jack Thorne, Abi Morgan, Tony Marchant, Mike Bartlett, Dennis Kelly, Kay Mellor, Lucy Gannon, Joe Penhall, Sarah Phelps, Lee Hall, to name just a few

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Wow, you guys really have your work cut out! Many thanks for all you do . . . if I could buy you a doughnut I would, but then that might be construed as bribery . . . so maybe I wouldn't . . . but the thought is there, so have a virtual doughnut on me anyway :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Paul (and Fadein)

    Yeah! I did manage to catch almost all of the Saturday drama while waiting in line for the ferry departure from Oban to Castlebay. Just missed a few minutes when the batteries of my portable radio conked, despite being fully recharged the day before. Managed to persuade husband to switch off the cricket on the car radio for 15 minutes to catch the last quarter hour. That included the immortal quotes from N. Clegg, G. Brown, and A. Blair, which made even hubby laugh. And why wasn't Helen McCrory given a credit in the website advance billing? She is about as famous (and certainly as good) as her husband, if not better (I remember her as Anna Karenina and saw her in "The Last of the Haussmans"). The drama was a very entertaining play, and I was analysing it to see how it ticked the boxes Paul listed as "avoid". It had a sizeable cast and went back into history, although, as quoted above, it certainly abounded inwith contemporary references.

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    Comment number 13.

    Jane Saunte - Yay, fabulous. Double bonus - you managed to listen to your radio choices AND succeeded in getting the cricket switched off! Win, win.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Yes, it was a satisfying moment.


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