Plays

The Trial of Lucullus

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

When the Roman general and politician Lucullus dies, we witness his trial by jury, who will decide whether he takes his place among the heroes in the Elysium fields, or whether he shuffles through the shadows in the darkness of Hades' halls.

Allowed to defend himself, Lucullus calls forth witnesses to his great militaristic victories, including conquering the far east for Rome, only for the jury and judge to point out the human loss in each case.

Ultimately, those characteristics in himself that he saw as irrelevant are his only graces, while the greatness he with which he had gilded his reputation is reduced only to the charge sheet which may condemn him.

The Trial of Lucullus was a radio play that was first broadcast on 12 May 1940 from a Berne studio.

After the end of the Second World War, after the atomic bomb had been dropped, the Nuremberg trials had ended , and the Korean War had begun, Brecht revisited this radio play with the aim of rewriting it as an opera. The revised text – which became The Condemnation of Lucullus, with music by Paul Dessau, had many variants to the radio play. These variants are discussed in detail in the introduction to the collection, as well as under Notes and Variants; both of these can be found in the 'From the Book' section below.

audio Under Milk Wood

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Matthew Rhys and Kate Burton headline a Welsh and Welsh-American cast celebrating the centenary of Dylan Thomas’ birth in a performance of his timeless “play for voices.” With characters such as Captain Cat, Polly Garter, and Nogood Boyo, Thomas brings to life the inhabitants of the fictional town of Llareggub in funny, poignant, and poetic detail.

Includes a conversation with Andrew Lycett, author of Dylan Thomas: A New Life.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast production, starring Matthew Rhys, Kate Burton, Laura Evans, John Francis, Jason Hughes, Christopher Monger, Cerris Morgan-Moyer, Jo Osmond, and Morgan Ritchie.

Directed by Sara Sugarman. Recorded before a live audience by L.A. Theatre Works.

Featuring: Matthew Rhys, Kate Burton, Laura Evans, John Francis, Jason Hughes, Christopher Monger, Cerris Morgan-Moyer, Jo Osmond, Morgan Ritchie

audio War of the Worlds

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Join actors from Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation as they recreate this classic radio thriller. The breathless pace and convincing details make it clear why the 1938 broadcast of an "eyewitness report" of an invasion from Mars caused a nationwide panic. Originally directed by Orson Welles and performed by his Mercury Theatre of the Air, War of the Worlds is an adaptation of H. G. Wells' novel of the same name.

War of the Worlds is truly the mother of all space invasions, offering a rare combination of chills, thrills and great literature.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring John de Lancie, Meagan Fay, Jerry Hardin, Gates McFadden, Leonard Nimoy, Daryl Schultz, Armin Shimerman, Brent Spiner, Tom Virtue and Wil Wheaton.

Includes a conversation with Leonard Nimoy.

War of the Worlds is part of L.A. Theatre Works’ Relativity Series featuring science-themed plays. Major funding for the Relativity Series is provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to enhance public understanding of science and technology in the modern world.

Featuring: John de Lancie, Meagan Fay, Jerry Hardin, Gates McFadden, Leonard Nimoy, Daryl Schultz, Armin Shimerman, Brent Spiner, Tom Virtue, Wil Wheaton

When sound broadcasting was introduced as a public communication channel after the First World War, the purveying of drama was one of its many functions. Indeed, radio drama was to overtake the theatre in quite a few countries, in terms of both output and audience figures. By 1930 the BBC was putting on twice as many plays as the London stage. Half a century later, its annual production of new plays was somewhere in the region of 600.

Radio was the first broadcast medium to bring drama into one’s sitting room; so it is not surprising that it took some time to find its voice. It all began with a transmission by the British Broadcasting Company, on 16 February 1923, of three different scenes from Shakespeare plays. Theatre plays have figured in the radio repertoire ever since, in Britain and elsewhere. But it was soon realized that radio also needed a new kind of drama specially written for the medium. Because it lacks any visual element, radio drama has been defined as a ‘theatre for the blind’. Richard Hughes’s A Comedy of Danger, Britain’s, and perhaps the world’s, first original radio play, broadcast on 15 January 1924, exploited this aspect in a tale of people trapped in a mine shaft in total darkness. Later plays such as MacNeice The Dark Tower (1946), Thomas’s Under Milk Wood (1954), Pinter’s A Slight Ache (1959) and Barry Bermange’s No Quarter (1962) – to mention but a few have all used the theme of blindness. It is true that sightlessness imposes certain constraints on radio drama. Any character who fails to speak for a while vanishes from the mind’s eye. A prolonged general silence might mean the end of the programme rather than a significant pause. Too large a number of speakers may well confuse the listener. Gestural communication does not read. But the listener’s ‘blindness’ is not just a handicap. It is often said that radio drama paradoxically gives us the best pictures. It appeals to the imagination, conjures up different images in each listener’s head and thus enjoys the advantages of multivalence and fluidity. It has the greatest freedom in the handling of time and space. A purely aural medium, it gives enormous value to the actor’s vocal expressiveness, which has to convey character, intention and feeling without any facial or gestural signals. Radio drama is particularly well suited to rendering inner processes: it easily accommodates the monologue. However, to conclude from this – as some critics have done – that radio drama naturally inclines towards an absurdist view of life is itself an absurdity.

Besides the human voice, sound effects – recorded or produced on the spot, naturalistic, suggestive or symbolic – create place, action and atmosphere. Music, too, can play a role as mood setter or bridge between scenes. Actually, at certain periods in the history of radio drama, effects and music have been used to excess. With its emphasis on dialogue, radio drama is a writer’s medium. Its technology being relatively inexpensive (at least compared to film and television), it is a useful launching pad for new playwrights; John Mortimer, Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard all wrote for radio in the early parts of their careers. For established playwrights, too, radio offers a stimulating challenge though only relatively modest fees. After the success of Waiting for Godot, Beckett showed his grasp of the sound medium with All that Fall (1957) and Embers (1958).

Technological change was bound to affect the nature of radio drama. The dramatic control panel, introduced in 1928, made a multi-studio technique possible; the voices of actors working from several studios with different acoustics could be modulated and combined. Concepts like ‘fades’ and ‘superimpositions’ were borrowed from the cinema. Later, filters served to modify microphone characteristics, providing such effects as telephone conversations. A major innovation pioneered in Germany and quickly adopted everywhere after the end of the Second World War was the audio tape recorder. Drama had gone out live before; now it became normal to pre-record it. In such a recording there was no longer any need to run a play through from start to finish in one go; it became possible to take individual scenes and then edit them together, just as in film-making. The highly portable tape recorder can also be taken outside to record a play, or parts of it, on location (though this is by no means universal practice).

The institutional framework of broadcasting cannot fail to have a bearing on the type of drama produced or indeed whether any drama is produced at all. In the United States, radio has been a commercial enterprise from the start. By 1927 two large networks, NBC and CBS, completely dominated the hundreds of local radio stations. As more and more programmes were commercially sponsored, it became imperative to maximize audiences. Not surprisingly, controversy and experimentation were frowned upon. Mystery and detective series were popular. But the staple fare of US radio drama was the family serial – intellectually untaxing, but involving. Because many of these were sponsored by soap manufacturers in the early days, they came to be known as soap operas. By 1938 there were as many as 38 of these on the air, aimed chiefly at women listeners housebound during the daytime. But throughout the 1930s competition between the networks produced what has hyperbolically been called the Golden Age of Radio Drama in America. It was to last barely a decade and a half. ‘Columbia Workshop’ (CBS) created a stir with MacLeish’s verse play, The Fall of the City in 1937 – a forecast of fascist aggression to come. Several series by the writer-producer Norman Corwin were the CBS drama flagship; his rival at NBC was Arch Oboler. Perhaps the most talented person in American radio drama was Orson Welles. His company was given a regular spot on CBS as ‘Mercury Theater on the Air’. When he directed H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds for Hallowe’en 1938, his reportage style of presenting a Martian invasion was so convincing that it triggered off a mass panic: people rushed off in their cars to escape instant destruction; telephone switchboards were flooded. Welles’s knowledge of radio technique rubbed off on his subsequent film work, notably Citizen Kane. With the coming of television, high-quality drama virtually disappeared from American radio.

In the United Kingdom, on the other hand, the BBC has represented public service broadcasting and has built up a solid tradition of drama. (The contribution to drama of Independent Local Radio, set up in 1973, has been negligible.) A good many BBC plays have been avowedly popular, from the detective series Dick Barton – Special Agent, which by 1947 had some 15 million listeners, to that longest-running of all family serials, The Archers. By the end of the century this rural saga was in its fifth decade and enjoyed a devoted following, many listeners believing in the characters with astonishing literal-mindedness. Relieved of the pressure of ratings, the BBC has been able to appeal to a wide spectrum of tastes, with the Third Programme (Radio 3 since 1970) explicitly featuring works with a minority appeal. Not all BBC plays have actually come out of the Drama Department. From 1933 onwards, Features rivalled it in drama output for some 30 years. Thus Christopher Columbus (1942), one of the most successful plays by the prolific poet-producer Louis MacNeice, was classed as a feature. So was Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood. This investigation of a non-existent small Welsh seaside town was a work of the imagination, though in quasi-documentary guise. Feature or drama, it turned out to be probably the most acclaimed radio play of all time – repeated three times within three months of the original broadcast, transmitted overseas six times in the following year and put out again many more times in subsequent years. It quickly appeared on the market as a book and a record. When adapted for the stage, television and the cinema, it obstinately remained what Thomas had called it – a ‘play for voices’. Over the years the BBC has kept up a remarkable volume of excellent productions, with writers like Henry Reed, Giles Cooper, James Saunders, Don Howarth, Bill Naughton, Fay Weldon and a host of others supplying scripts of real quality. Television has long since cut into the audience figures of the 1940s and 1950s, but a weekday afternoon play will still draw hundreds of thousands of listeners.

Interest in radio drama has been worldwide. Italy’s commitment was demonstrated by the establishment in 1948 of the international Prix Italia for the year’s best radio play. Germany’s Radio Drama Prize of the War Blinded was set up in 1951 for the best German-language offering of the year. Radio drama has been particularly important in postwar Germany. The broadcast on NWDR of Borchert’s Draussen vor der Tür (The Man Outside, 1947) was a significant event in the country’s facing up to its recent past. The leading radio playwright of the 1950s and 1960s was the poet Günter Eich, but many other writers – Ilse Aichinger and Wolfgang Hildesheimer among them – have also contributed to radio drama. Indeed, a great many countries from the Czech Republic to Canada, from Switzerland to Japan, have all laboured to built up a vast, though unfortunately to the reader mostly inaccessible, corpus of plays for broadcasting. It is true that television has decimated the audience for radio drama. But the latter continues to be an interesting, if insufficiently regarded and remunerated, form of playwriting – different in form from, but closely affiliated to, other forms of drama and literature in general.

from George Brandt, The Continuum Companion to Twentieth-Century Theatre, ed. Colin Chambers (London, 2002).