In Uncategorized on October 15, 2011 at 1:30 pm


Matthew MacKisack, Initial & Reprise installation view, 2010



Matthew MacKisack writes: The Radio of the Future – the central tree of our consciousness – will inaugurate new ways to cope with our endless undertakings and will unite all mankind. … The main Radio station, that stronghold of steel, where clouds of wires cluster like strands of hair, will surely be protected by a sign with a skull and crossbones and the familiar word “Danger”, since the least disruption of Radio operations would produce a mental blackout over the entire country, and temporary loss of consciousness. [1]

The first play written for British radio was Richard Hughes’ Danger (1924), a one-act melodrama set in an unlit and flooding coal mine. As the author later remarked,

Our audience were used to using their eyes; this was a blind man’s world we were introducing them to. In time they would accept its conventions but how would they react on this first occasion? Better make it easy for them, just this once. Something which happens in the dark, for instance, so the characters themselves keep complaining they can’t see. Perhaps we could get the listener to turn out his lights and listen in the dark. [2]

‘Listen in the dark’ is exactly what the Radio Times advised its readers to do. In an attempt to foreground the ethics of making it ‘easy for them’, of the naturalistic illusion, and in the spirit of a Khlebnikovian ‘flight from the I’, Richard Hughes’ original script has been revised and edited according to contemporaneous Russian formalist theories – themselves a response to Futurist aesthetics – of ostranenie, or defamiliarization.


[1]  Velimir Khlebnikov, The Radio of the Future, 1921
[2] Richard Hughes, The Birth of Radio Drama, B.B.C. Home Service, 1956





A, B,C



A gallery in a Welsh coal mine.


A. [sharply] What’s happened?

B. The lights have gone out!

C. Where are you?

A. Here.

B. Steps stumbling.

C. Where? I can’t find you.

A. Here. I’m holding my hand out.

B. I can’t find it.

C. Here!




A. [startled] What’s that?

B. It’s all right: it’s me.

C. You frightened me, touching me suddenly like that in the dark. I’d no idea you were so close.

A. Catch hold of my hand. Whatever happens, we mustn’t lose each other.

B. That’s better. – But the lights! Why have they gone out?

C. I don’t know. I suppose something has gone wrong with the dynamo. They’ll turn them on again in a minute.

A. I hate the dark!

B. It’ll be alright in a minute or two.

C. It’s so dark down here.

A. No wonder! There must be nearly a thousand feet between us and the daylight.

B. I didn’t know there could be such utter darkness as this, ever. It’s so dark, it’s as if there never was such a thing as light anywhere. It’s like being blind!

C. They’ll turn the lights up again soon.

A. I wish we’d never come down this mine! I knew something would go wrong.

B. Where are the others?

C. They’re just on ahead, not far.

A. Suppose we get lost!

B. We can’t get lost.

C. I wish you hadn’t wanted to drop the others! I’m afraid of the dark.

A. It’ll soon be over.

B. And I wish we hadn’t left behind those lamps they gave us! [Pause] Listen!

C. Steps heard.

A. There’s someone coming!

B. [Distant, muttering] Of all the incompetent idiots, turning the lights off just when a party of visitors were seeing the place! Call this a coal-mine!

C. Hello?

A. Hello? Who’s there? Of all the stupid –

B. What’s happened? Is it all right?

C. Is it all right, indeed! Leaving us suddenly in the dark like this!

A. But has there been an accident?

B. God knows! I’d expect anything of a country like this! They’ve got a climate like the flood and a language like the Tower of Babel, and then they go and lureus into the bowels of the earth and turn the lights off! Wretched, incompetent –

C. Well, I suppose the only thing to do is to sit and wait for the lights to go up again.

A. There’s no danger, is there?

B. No, there’s no danger.

C. I’m beginning to think it’s quite fun.

A. Well, if you can find any fun in breaking your shins in the dark –

B. Why, don’t you call it fun, being in a pit disaster?

C. But this isn’t a disaster, it’s only the lights –

A. Of course! You don’t think it would be fun if it were a real disaster, do you? But the lights going out might have meant a disaster – and imagine telling everyone afterward! Let’s –

B. Yes?

C. Let’s pretend it’s serious.

A. What do you mean?

B. Let’s pretend it’s a real disaster, and we’re cooped up here for ever and will never be able to get out.

C. Don’t joke about it.

A. Why not? There’s no real danger, is there?

B. Well of all the morbid –

C. Let’s pretend the roof has fallen in, and they can’t get to us.

A. [Uncomfortably] Very well … [In mock solemnity] Here we are, my dear, buried alive! Alas, they’ll never find us! [Reverting] Well?

B. I’m so frightened!

C. What of?

A. About the roof falling in.

B. But it hasn’t; it’s only pretense.

C. Yes, but when I pretend, it seems so real.

A. Then don’t pretend!

B. But I want to pretend! I want to be frightened!

C. [In mock solemnity again] We shall suffocate, or starve, or both, my dear, in each other’s arms.

A. Even death shall not part us.

B. Don’t! It’s too awful.

C. There’ll be articles in the newspapers.

A. [Delighted] I wish I could read them!

B. You can’t have your funeral and watch it.

C. A distant explosion, with a long echo, swelling in volume.

A. Good God!

B. Let go! You’re throttling me! Let go of me!

C. Another explosion, nearer, followed by the hiss of water.

A. The dust! It’s choking me! I can’t breathe!

B. Stop screaming! How do you expect to be able to breathe if you’re screaming all your breath out?

C. Pull yourself together! We’re alright; we’re not hurt.

A. We’re not hurt. But listen!

B. Water heard louder.

C. Water!

A. [Sotto voce] Be quiet. Don’t let her hear!

B. What’s that roaring?

C. It’s only the echo.

A. Can’t we find the others?

B. I don’t think we could; it wouldn’t be much use to us if we did.

C. [quietly and sharply]. Oh, good God! Good God!

A. They’re no better off than we are.

B. Listen! That must be them!

C. Voices heard singing.


A, B and C:


Hlaha! Uthlofan, lauflings!
Hlaha! Ufhlofan, lauflings!
Who lawghen with lafe, who hlaehen lewchly,
Hlaha! Uflofan hlouly!
Hlaha! Hloufish lauflings lafe uf beloght lauchlorum!


A. That must be the others. They can’t be very far off. Let’s call to them.

B. Sound carries a long way in a tunnel.  But listen.

C. The roar gets louder.

A. The echo’s getting louder! It isn’t an echo! It’s water! The mine’s flooding! We’re going to drown!

B. The voices are again heard singing, closer this time.


C, A and B:


Hlaha! Loufenish lauflings lafe, hlohan utlaufly!
Lawfen, lawfen,
Hloh, hlouh, hlou! Luifekin, luifekin,
Hlofeningum, hlofeningum.
Hlaha! Uthlofan, lauflings!
Hlaha! Ufhlofan, lauflings! *


C. I wish I had their faith. It’d make dying easy.

A. I don’t want to die yet! I won’t, I won’t!

B. It has got to come some time; isn’t it better for it to happen now, in your lover’s arms? Death might have parted you – but instead he’s joining you closer together.

C. I want to live!

A. Do you think I don’t? Do you think they don’t? They’re singing hymns!

B. Look, instead of talking like this, let’s do something; let’s make some sort of an attempt at escape!

C. What do you propose?

A. Look for some way out. We can’t stay here and drown, like rats in a cage.

B. But if you start to walk, you’ll start to run; and if you start to run, you’ll panic, and go mad in the dark. I’d rather die with my wits about me!

C. I’d rather not die at all!

A. Keeping still is the only thing for us, if we don’t want to lose our heads. Remember how far into the side of the hill we are. What earthly hope do you thinkthere is of finding our way out?

B. Here it comes! Listen!

C. Rush of water quite close now.

A. Yes, it will be on us in another five minutes.

B. Pray Heaven it finishes us off quickly.

C. Think of dying somewhere out in the open, in the sunlight! Me able to see you, and you able to see me! What bliss it would be!

A. It’s strange how little we wonder what will happen to us. In five minutes we’ll know ourselves, all three of us. I’ve always wanted to travel. Now I’m going to.

B. My poor dear!

C. I’m beginning to feel excited about it, like a child going to the seaside for the first time. Aren’t you?

A. I never looked at it like that.

B. The water’s coming! It’s over my feet!

C. Courage, courage.

A. I don’t want to die – I hate it! I want to live!

B. Don’t make it harder.

C. Only for an hour more! There was something I wanted to say to you, and I can’t remember it … I must remember… it’ll be too late soon.

A. Do you think you’re the only one dying before his time? I tell you, every man dies before his time, even if he lives to be as old as Methuselah!

B. It’s up to my knees!

C. [Very quietly] Don’t clutch at me like that, it won’t do any good.

A. But the water – the current’s washing me away –

B. I’ve got you! And I’ve got my other arm round the wooden thing!

C. Hold tight then!

A. If only I could see you!

B. Just think of the things I had meant to do!

C. Shut up about the things you had meant to do! Will you realize we’re all in the same boat, and it’s as hard on me as you – or worse, a thousand times worse!

A. You hoary old sinner, why can’t you prepare to get out of the world?

B. Let’s pray.

C. Pray if you like – I can’t.

A. [Hoarsely] Help! Help!

B. Hold your self in.

C. It’s so close.

A. Help me!

B. It’s no good; no one can possibly hear us. The only thing is to keep calm. It won’t be long now.

C. Tapping heard.

A. What’s that? Listen!

B. Help!

C. Shut up. We need to listen.

A. Tap, tap.

B. It’s up to my waist now.

C. My God! It’s someone tapping. [Shouts] We’re here! Further along!

A. [Calmly] Is it? They’ll find our bodies, that’s all.

B. They’ll find us if they’re quick enough! [Shouts] Further along – that’s right!

C. They can’t possibly be quick enough.

A. Help! Dig quicker! We’re drowning!

B. Stop it; they won’t be in time.

C. [Quietly] I won’t leave you.

A. How do you know they’ll let you stay with him? What do you know about death? I tell you death isn’t heaven and it isn’t hell. Death’s dying. Death’s being nothing.

B. Knocking grows louder.

C. It’s up to my chin! Help me!

A. Let me lift you.

B. [In a childlike voice] Say it isn’t true, what he’s been saying.

C. Hurry up – smash your way in! We’re drowning!

A. They must be nearly through! God, this suspense! How much longer?

B. Look! There’s a light! A hole in the roof! Quick, quick!

C. Sound of strong blows, then sound of coal falling; sound of cheering.

A. They’re though!

B. Quick, below there! Catch on to the rope!

C. I’m an old man!

A. There’s a girl here!

B. I’ve got the rope.

C. She’s fainted.

A. Pass her up – she’ll be alright.

B. Pass the bight of the rope round her shoulders!

C. All right up there? Have you got her?

A. Got her. Now the next.

B. Up you go – the water’s still rising!

C. No, after you; you’re more value in the world than I am.

A. Nonsense, you first! Quick, or there won’t be time!

B. You’ve got her to think of – now, haul away up there!

C. No, no! Lower me!

A. We’ll have you up first; there’s no time to waste. Right?

B. I’m all right. Lower away again. Down there, catch hold! Have you got it? [Pause] Hey! [Pause]  Have you got it? [Pause] He’s gone!


* Velimir Khlebnikov, Incantation by Laughter, trans. Paul Schmidt (1910 / 1985)



Script based on Richard Hughes’ A Comedy of Danger, written and first broadcast 1924, published as Danger in ‘Plays’, London: Chatto and Windus, 1966; revised by Matthew MacKisack for performance in October 2011 at Soundfjord, Unit 3B – Studio 28, 28 Lawrence Road, London, N15 4ER .  Performed by Carla Espinoza,  Lauren McCullum and Leo Ashizawa as the Opening Event of Cast & Figment: Radio as Metaphor & As Such.





More about Matthew’s work is here.


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