There isn’t much to be said about this past week’s radio production of I Will Wait for You, other than that it was short. Clocking in at under fifteen minutes (including an introduction and credits-sequence), the play suffered from an unclear tone and unsatisfying story (issues that one might attribute to the show’s brevity) which left what tension and mystery there was frustratingly ignored. While radio drama is an interesting new direction for Mermaids to go, with Beech and her team taking a bold first step into a relatively unexplored format, there are a few issues that need to be cleared up for student radio-theatre in this town to work as well as it ought to.
The play focuses on a young opera singer, Luda (played by Grace Tallmadge), and
her attempts to wrestle with the shadier elements of opera-world patronage, whilst remaining a bright, pure, beacon of virtue. If this seems convoluted, it isn’t. Essentially, I Will Wait for You follows one woman’s loosely-connected conversations with four different men. The first one is eccentric and likeable, the next two are bizarrely ominous, and the fourth is kind, sweet, and potential-love-interest-y. The issue is that these conversations don’t go anywhere. Despite the short run time they are largely expositional, and rarely is real tension communicated through the conflicting desires of the different parties. When tension does arise, and some mystery is established, it is quickly left by the wayside, as the scene shifts to yet another conversation with a stranger and further exposition.
The problem seems largely to be one of length, rather than with Beech’s skill. While some dialogue felt stilted, and meandered too much, there was real potential here to examine an interesting part of the art world, and a dark, shady conspiracy under its surface. Characterization, though too extensive for the length of the piece, was well-paced and natural, with a few characters really grabbing my attention. The fault was one of vision – with such a short piece needing a plot that was more tailored to the eleven-or-so minutes for which it ran. Modern radio drama tends to tackle this by making the central conflict surround only one or two characters, or by having a very short, very succinct conflict. Alternatively, radio drama is often made extremely abstract and experimental (for example, the work of Joe Frank). By failing to take either option, Beech tried to shoe-horn a full-length plot into an ill-suited timeframe, and the play suffered significantly as a result.
Though the play had an air of professionalism, with expertly handled transitions alongside compelling, well-balanced music and sound effects, the individual scenes quickly became bogged-down. Though all of the performances got the job done, and most were convincing, they lacked a certain dynamism of pace, an ebb and flow of tone and speed of speech that an entirely aural experience requires. As with the theatre, there are certain conventions of radio drama that aren’t necessarily naturalistic, but do contribute to the enjoyment of the listener, with a degree of motion and crescendo in an actor’s vocal performance being necessary to keep an audience interested. Will Costello as Nikolai was the best at this, delivering his lines with enthusiasm and flow. Though his delivery was not perfect, it was more in the direction of what the whole cast should have been directed to do.
Ultimately, Beech, along with her cast and crew, took a Mermaids production in an exciting new direction and championed an interesting concept – radio drama. Not only was it a bold idea, but it was technically executed far above what I had expected, with the script showing elements of what could be a very good play, were it to be made longer. However, before the next Mermaids radio play goes on air, there are a few questions that need to be answered: does the format fit the style of the show – how can you make the format actively engaging and what can the format contribute to the production? While I Will Wait for You started to answer these questions, it failed to adequately grasp how best to tackle this new frontier for student productions.