Mogadishu - drama about what happens in schools
"People think they know what happens in schools. But they don't". So says playwright Vivienne Franzmann in the introduction to her play, Mogadishu which we're broadcasting on BBC Radio 3 this Sunday. Franzmann should know - she's a former teacher, this is her first play and it won her the prestigious George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright and was a critical success. BBC Radio 3 has a tradition of tackling difficult issues through bringing the best of new playwriting to our audiences. Mogadishu is no exception. It's a hard-hitting story - which shows how an inner-city secondary school is driven by anger, vindictiveness, cowardice and misguided idealism when a student falsely accuses a teacher of racism. And if that description sounds excessive - last weekend the press reported figures from the Department for Education revealing that around 44 per-cent of claims made by pupils and their parents against teachers were "unsubstantiated, malicious or unfounded".
Mogadishu started life on the stage at Manchester's Royal Exchange. But now Franzmann has re-imagined it for radio. And fans of radio drama will know that transferring to the airwaves gives a play an intimacy and a directness, a reliance on language, which can leave audiences frozen as they stop the washing up, the tidying and just listen - sometimes delighted - and sometimes disturbed by the things they realise they want to hear. We're right there in the room as a father, worn down by a low-paid job and family tragedy, humiliates his bullying son, desperate to stop him throwing his life away. We're listening over the shoulder of a head teacher in his office as he brutally washes his hands of a good colleague, because social services have decided to investigate her home life.
And that closeness to the action, an almost documentary feel, doesn't just apply to social realism in radio drama. Over the last six weeks on Radio 3, our broad range of drama offerings could have rushed you through the enchanted forest with the young lovers of Shakespeare's Midsummer's Night's Dream, recorded over night in woodland outside Brighton. You could have lounged in the Parisian cafes with comedian Tommy Cooper - played by Russ Abbott - on a trip to the French capital he never really made. Or, unbelievably for most of us, you could have found yourself giggling away to a seventeenth century French classic! (Courtesy of a brilliant modern comic version by Ranjit Bolt). Radio drama does that. You're not in the most expensive seats in the stalls. You're up there with the actors.
When I first saw Mogadishu in the theatre I was astounded that a young cast could bring such theatrical skill to such a compelling text - and appalled at the situation and the authentic behaviour they portrayed of contemporary Britain. Now audiences at home will have the chance to experience that event. As Vivienne Franzmann herself might put it: people think they know what happens in radio drama. But they don't. Try listening on Sunday.
Matthew Dodd is BBC Radio 3's Head of Speech and Presentation