Radio Drama in France
Alistair Wyper

The main station which broadcasts drama regularly is France Culture (http://www.franceculture.fr/) although France Inter (http://www.franceinter.fr/) occasionally has short plays and readings. They are both public radio stations, public radio being well supported, up to now, in France.

I was fortunate that when I first moved to France in 1999, France Culture broadcast short plays lasting 30 minutes at least twice a week. A thirty minute play was less of a challenge to a non-native French speaker and I was able to use these short plays to practise my French listening skills until I was able to follow a longer piece.

For several years France Culture has made most of its programmes available as podcasts or to download for a year post broadcast, a move which one hopes the BBC follows soon.

The two set piece weekly dramas from France Culture are a 60 minute play every Saturday night which concentrates mostly on dark dramas and thrillers, hence its relatively new title “Samedi noir”. Every Sunday night there is usually a longer play with the programme title “Théâtre et Cie”, often a classic of European or world theatre, although new drama features from time to time. The difference between the Saturday play and Sunday night drama is similar to the difference between the typical BBC Radio 4 play and “Drama on 3”.

During the week, France Culture broadcasts short (15 to 30 minute) readings, and dramas similar to BBC Radio 4’s “15 Minute Drama”. One can see, therefore, that there are rather fewer plays broadcast by French public radio than by the BBC. There are no equivalents to Afternoon Drama or the Classic Serial.

France Culture also broadcasts archive material during the night. This sometimes allows one to hear some real French radio treasures, the channel having started under the name Radiodiffusion Française, in 1946. For example a series of interviews with Albert Camus was broadcast recently.

The Saturday night play on France Culture is often a detective story, by a contemporary French writer and occasionally a French translation of a classic English detective story. There have been adaptations of Sherlock Holmes and recently of four Agatha Christie stories rather squeezed into the 60 minute slot. Not all of the adaptations of English language work are detective stories. French radio producers also keep an ear out for outstanding English radio drama: Spoonface Steinberg (BBC Radio 4) and People Snogging in Public Places (BBC Radio 3 The Wire – Winner of the Sony Gold Award 2010) have been translated and produced by France Culture.

I find the approach to production, direction and especially acting in French radio drama rather different from its English language equivalent. The style is very much of the theatre, with only rare attempts to achieve a natural or spontaneous feel to the drama. One is often conscious of the fact that the actors are acting. A television drama critic once wrote that when she looked away from the screen and then back again, if she did not “catch an actor acting”, she was impressed by the quality of the acting. Nonetheless, if one accepts the difference in approach and style from the English equivalent, there is much to appreciate and to enjoy in listening to French radio drama.

Reproduced by permission of Alistair Wyper.

© Alistair, Diversity Website, Jan 2015.


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