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Structuring a Radio Play - The Building Blocks.

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Albert Speer with HitlerNormally I should encourage writers to attempt to write first for radio and not try "unthinking" another medium.  However I should like to share with you, how Jonathan Smith and Shaun MacLoughlin worked very closely together on his stage script of The World Walk to transform it into a radio play.

Jonathan went on to write many more excellent radio plays, many of them produced by Shaun.

The following excerpt attempts to accomplish at least four objectives in the first two minutes.

  1. It gives us some idea of what the play is going to be about.  This is done largely by the announcer, but also by Albert Speer's, the central character's, monologue.
  2. It provides emotional attraction, to help captivate the listener.  This is done partly by the choice of music: the Horst Wessel song, a highly evocative Nazi marching tune, that is at once both uplifting and reminiscent of some of the worst atrocities of the Twentieth Century.  It is also partly done by the monologue given to Albert Speer.  Although we may already know or be beginning to surmise, that he is a convicted Nazi war criminal, we are already invited to identify with him and it is difficult not to feel some sympathy for him.
  3. It has to establish the conventions of the play: that we are in for a drama that is both emotional and reflective and that we shall not follow a lineal order of events, but shall jump around as memory and as apprehension dictate.  It implies that we shall both be looking back at Albert Speer's past life and forward to his forthcoming release from Spandau Prison.
  4. Finally, it has to begin to stimulate some pictures in the listener's mind.  Here the monologue is helped by the sound effects, in conveying our hero trudging endlessly round and round a confined space: a different kind of marching, to that which we have just heard behind the Horst Wessel song.

As a writer, when you are writing your own beginning, attempt in your own original way, relevant to your subject, to achieve similar objectives.

The Script

ANNOUNCER: "The World Walk" by Jonathan Smith with John Franklyn Robbins as Albert Speer.
FADE UP AND ESTABLISH AN OLD RECORDING OF NAZI SOLDIERS MARCHING TO AND SINGING 'THE HORST WESSEL SONG', FADE DOWN:
ANNOUNCER: Albert Speer 'The World Walk' is based upon the book, 'Spandau, The Secret Diaries' by Albert Speer, translated into English by Richard and Clara Winston.  The play is set in Spandau prison on September the 30th 1966, but the events range over a thirty-year period and do not follow chronological order.  Rather, to adapt Wordsworth's idea, they are moments of time recollected in captivity and contemplated until they actually exist again.  There is no ordering such thoughts; random, they come, dream-like and real.  Imagine such thoughts crowding in on Speer's mind, during the last hours of his imprisonment.
SWELL SONG AND THEN SLOWLY CROSSFADE WITH THE SINGLE, SOLITARY, BUT REGULAR FOOTSTEPS OF SPEER ON A GRAVEL PATH.  BIRDSONG.
SPEER: Spandau Prison(BREATHING HEAVILY FROM HIS FAST PACE.  HE HAS AN ANXIOUS, DEFERENTIAL MANNER)  Before I leave I must go and speak to Herr Hess.  It won't be easy, I know that, he'll snap at me, but I must.  In many ways I'd rather keep at the walk, keep myself to myself, cover a few more kilometres and prepare my mind for tomorrow.  (INTRODUCE SPEER'S HEARTBEAT)  I'd rather do anything that keeps me away from that British guard Watkins and his damn fool questions.  Ha - there he is near the wash house waiting for me to come round the path with that smirk on his face and as I pass he'll say, 'Still walking Number Five?'

As an actor, it may be helpful to know that Speer is quietly berating himself. He is full of guilt and his conscience never allows him to relax.

If you are interested in the background to this play have a look at our Hitler page

The above is from Chapter 3: Structuring a Radio Play from Writing for Radio 
by Shaun MacLoughlin, obtainable from www.amazon.co.uk (see below please).
It provides the story of this "good", family man, who little by little drifted into helping 
Hitler with his slave labour programme.

For a beautiful website about Jonathan Smith please go to Summer in February

Click here for Bargain Voice CD

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Please click on the images to learn more about books about Albert Speer and about books by Jonathan Smith, the author of The World Walk.  Night Windows is based on a The Headman, a popular Radio 4 series written by Jonathan and produced by Shaun Macloughlin