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.