Wednesday 17 March 2010

Hearing Voices

There's a new comedy on Radio 4 called Party, by Tom Basden (aka one of the Cowards). It's a sitcom based on a play that he wrote about young idealists trying to set up their own party. There are lots of good things about it - not least some lovely jokes and decent routines, which make things move along nicely. It was only ten minutes in I realised that we were still on the opening scene - and it didn't stop. So Mr Basden has successfully written half an hour of realtime radio comedy, which is very impressive and something I've never managed to do, try as I might.

It also managed to be a comedy about self-defeating party politics without making me think of the Judaean People's Front - which looms large over all material like this.

But here's the boring nitpicky mechnical bit (and the reason for the very existence of this blog - we don't just come to praise or criticise but to think and learn): I really didn't know who anyone was for the whole episode. I heard five voices (I think) and those voices said stuff that was funny, as I've said, but I didn't really know who they were, and therefore why they were saying it - which diminished things somewhat. After all, if most comedy is character, and we are robbed of character, we are not left with an awful lot. It meant that the show had a high hit-rate of jokaes that stood in their own right - but could have been so much funnier if they had a real 'voice'.

Radio is wonderful medium. It's a wonderfully freeing medium in so many ways - but here's one of the constrictions. There has to be clear water between the voices and the characters, or it blends into one. It can make writing radio scripts harder since certain accents lend themselves to certain attitudes and jokes which may need to be unpicked or sidestepped. If one places one Scot in a room of Englishmen, it needs to be addressed in some way - because the audience is expecting itwhether you do or not. So best thing is to address the 'scottishness' in this case, get over it and move on, and you have a contrasting voice that will make your life easier in the long run, not harder.

I imagine that since the show is based on an Edinburgh comedy play in which various folk were invited to take part for no money over the course of a few weeks you don't think about the mix of voices as you might. So when it transferred to radio, the idea of reliquishing even one of those actors was just too much to bear. It's completely understandable, since the cast are all individually terrific with plenty of comedy credentials - but as it stood, it can be very confusing for the listener (and as we know, confusion is the enemy of comedy) and it stopped this well-written radio comedy from being an really excellent piece of radio.


  1. James,

    Do you know where I could read a treatment for Party? Or even for Hut 33? I'm currently stuck somewhere between eureka and Final Draft, and want to see if I've had an idea with legs.

    I'm one of those people who remembers the Judaean People's Front with extra John Cleese build-up. No video, audio cassette only.


  2. Very similar thoughts from me, particularly regarding episode-length scene and multiplicity of voices. I didn't know about it's Edinburgh history but that makes perfect sense. I'll be interested to hear how it evolves as a series: how many parts are scheduled?

  3. Jam, when you talk about voices I'm not sure what you mean. Are you talking about the physical differences of accent/pitch etc? Or the characterisation? Because while I haven't specially enjoyed the first two episodes of Party, I haven't particularly struggled to distinguish the characters.

  4. You have said more or less what I said to my husband when I was telling him about it. Yes, too many undifferentiated characters, and some good jokes which weren't as funny as they should be.