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Postcards from a Cataclysm - short drama for Radio 4

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James Robinson James Robinson 10:43, Wednesday, 10 February 2010


I love short film festivals. They're a bit like a box of chocolates: You might get an incredible story, a fantastic animation or something totally abstract and experimental. And when you do get a dud, you're safe in the knowledge that there'll be another along soon.

Radio 4 is uniquely privileged to have 45 minutes of original drama every afternoon, but it's never really tried short-form drama in the Afternoon Play slot... until now. Postcards from a Cataclysm is a collection of 'audio shorts' - between 30 seconds and 6 minutes long - packaged around the idea that an asteroid is about to strike planet earth.

Now, there will be those who say that short-form drama is yet more evidence of society's dumbing down and that in our increasingly technologically dominated world, attention spans are shrinking to such an extent that they can't concentrate on anything unless it's bite-sized and easily digestible.

But that is to miss the fact that short-form drama really is an art form in its own right. Only the most skilled of writers can craft a satisfying story with believable characters in less than 5 minutes. You only need to spend a short while on the BBC Film Network to see that when it's done well short-form can be a fantastically rich dramatic experience.

In terms of audio there's some great experimental shorts provided by the French company Arte Radio (not all of them in French).

Short-form also allows audio drama to sit comfortably into the playlist of your MP3 player. So you might get a short play or a poem nestled between Chopin and Shakira.

But, perhaps the most interesting challenge of fitting short form into the Afternoon Play slot, was making the individual pieces work as a whole. Regular listeners deserve a satisfying arc across the 45 minutes, so while attempting to make the shorts as individual and distinct as possible, we were keen they all felt part of the same story.

Whether we succeeded and whether short-form is the way forward or simply a detour to somewhere slightly different, please have a listen and judge for yourself.

Listen to one of the shorts created for the programme, Amazing Grace by The Factory:

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James Robinson is producer of Postcards from a Cataclysm



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