Magazine article The Spectator

Radio the Play's the Thing

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio the Play's the Thing

Article excerpt

No one writes for radio for the money. Or for the notoriety. You'll never make mega-bucks or see your name in lights. Yet still they write - because it's challenging and yet also so much fun. There are no restrictions on the air, no boundaries of time or space, no limits on what a character can do or where they can go, in the space of 30, 45, 60 minutes. The only rules are to speak clearly as the writer, taking your listeners with you, and for the cast to have distinct voices, with immediately identifiable differences in tone and personality. If you have to struggle at any point with working out who's speaking, the spell is broken, the play won't work.

The playwright Tom Stoppard began his career by writing for radio. You could say it's where he learnt his craft. Now he's announced that his latest big project is for wireless listeners only (to be broadcast on the August bank holiday). Dark Side, inspired by the Pink Floyd album, will be, he says, an 'audio-drama', incorporating music from the band's biggest (and longest) selling album. It's something that's never been done before - or not quite like this. Stoppard promises us 'an experience' that's worthy of the dreamy, floaty psychedelic album, giving the band's music another kind of life.

Weirdly, though, Dark Side has been commissioned and made for Radio 2, not - as you might expect - for Radios 3 or 4. It's been decades since Radio 2 was allowed to broadcast anything but music and the odd bit of light entertainment. Now its success as much-the-most-listened-to network of the BBC means it can poach stuff not normally heard alongside Chris's chatter and Terry's jokes.

Over on the World Service, drama was once as much a staple of its content as news, taking plays from and to countries around the globe, building up networks of communication through the artistry of theatre. Now it's reduced almost to one play, if you're lucky, once a month. In March and April this precious slot has been taken by the two winners (in English as a second language and English as a first language) of the International Playwriting Competition (you can still find them on iPlayer). I make no excuses for writing about this biennial prize each and every time it's announced because it's one of the best things organised by the BBC in association with the British Council and Commonwealth Writers. Well over 1,000 entries for the prize are received, with plotlines and dramas that take us from cockroach races in Qatar to a thriller about forging art in India. …

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