Playing around on the radio

Apr 11, 2019 | Blog

Recording a drama for the airwaves is exciting – even more so when it’s your own script

Actors Darragh Kelly, Sarah O’Rourke, Ali White and Lloyd Cooney discuss a scene at Near FM recording studio. Photograph: Christine Madden

“WHICH MICS are we using?”

“Em … ” I cast a glance around the cast. There’d be two to three characters in a scene. This one has three. “Blue, green and orange.” 

“Thanks.” Gavin, the sound director, switches the colour-coded mics on from his control room, which we can see through the window, and gives the go-ahead for the recording.

We’re spending Saturday and Sunday at Near FM radio studios in Coolock, north Dublin, recording a radio play. By “we”, I mean Gavin Byrne, responsible for IT and radio drama, as well as production co-ordinator Paul Loughran and actors Lloyd Cooney, Darragh Kelly, Sarah O’Rourke and Ali White. And me, too. I’m there because the play they’re recording is mine. And because I’m directing as well.

Sound technician Gavin Byrne at the sound controls during recording. Photograph: Christine Madden

It’s hugely exciting for me to be part of the production of this, my first play on the radio, or performed anywhere, to be honest. It’s called Buckle, and it was inspired by an article I read about a women who had gone to visit her son’s killer in jail. After repeated visits and conversations, she eventually called for and succeeded in getting him off death row.

What would drive a woman, a mother, to put herself in that situation? How could she face it? And what would they talk about? A series of exercises in imagining that fraught scenario continued to grow and eventually turned into the play that we’re in the process of recording.

It’s quite an ironic day to be doing the recording: Mother’s Day (Ireland and the UK). Depending on what happens in the respective scene we’re doing, the actors stand or sit to deliver their lines – which is why Gavin asks which mics to switch on. After the rehearsal on Saturday, we go through each scene at least twice to make sure it’s going where we want it to, and so Gavin has several takes to work with for the finished mix.

Headphones on so I can listen to what’s being recorded, it’s quite surreal and weirdly discomfiting at first to hear the actors speaking the lines I worked on for months, over years. But over the course of the weekend, it becomes business as usual. I’d been involved in many workshops and productions as literary manager at Rough Magic Theatre Company and new writing co-ordinator the Abbey. But this is the first time – apart from a workshop reading of the play with WillFredd Theatre – that I’m hearing my own work done. It feels very vulnerable, but also immensely, fizzingly exhilarating.

The cast of Buckle (left to right, back to front): Darragh Kelly, Ali White, Sarah O’Rourke and Lloyd Cooney. Photograph: Christine Madden

The cast are amazing – enormous luck to be in the same room with such terrific actors. After half a day’s rehearsal, they totally own the script. Watching, listening to them make it come to life is a magic experience, like watching flowering vines grow in time-lapse photography. I can’t wait to hear the final version!

Buckle will be broadcast at the end of May as part of Near FM’s New Drama Hour, a radio play anthology. The first in the series, These Lights, was broadcast on 8 March at 1pm

Another look at the script: (l-r) Sarah O’Rourke, Darragh Kelly, Ali White, Lloyd Cooney, Christine Madden. Photograph: Gavin Byrne


Christine Madden is an Irish-German writer, editor and writing coach based in Berlin and southwest France. Her journalism has appeared in the Irish Times, the Irish Independent, The Local Germany, the Guardian and the magazine ExBerliner, and she has been broadcast on BBC radio.


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