Hear Samuel Beckett’s Avant-Garde Radio Plays: All That Fall, Embers, and More

Think of radio plays, and you most likely think (or I most likely think) of the form's American "golden age" in the first half of the 20th century. That time and place in radio drama conjures up a certain more or less defined set of sensibilities: rocketships hurtling toward unknown worldshard-bitten detectives sticking to their cases, suburban couples bickering about the behavior of their jalopy-driving children. By the 1950s, the conventions of radio plays had ossified too much even for old-time radio audiences. Who best to call to tear up the form and start it over again? Why, Samuel Beckett, of course.

"In 1955 the BBC, intrigued by the international attention being given to the Paris production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (see a version here), invited the author to write a radio play," says the short history provided in the program of the Beckett festival of Radio Plays. Though hesitant, Beckett nevertheless wrote the following to a friend: "Never thought about radio play technique but in the dead of t’other night got a nice gruesome idea full of cartwheels and dragging of feet and puffing and panting which may or may not lead to something.'" That "gruesome idea" led, according to the program, not just to Beckett's 1956 radio-play debut All That Fall, but four more to follow over the next twenty years.