Radio Plays

Oxford Canal Heritage Radio Plays

In January 2014, a call for 10 minute plays inspired by the Oxford Canal brought in 36 entries.  Four plays were then shortlisted for the Oxford Canal Radio Play competition and the play’s writers: Heather Dunmore, Lara Fairy Love, Kelvin Fawdry and David McShane, were then mentored to improve their original play by Mark Haddon, famous Oxford based author, John Retallack, Programme Co-ordinator and Tutor for Writing for Performance at Ruskin College, Paul Rutman, film scriptwriter and Katie Baxendale, BBC producer and writer. All four plays were heard for the first time by an audience of over 100 people who enjoyed hearing the Canal Plays on a warm evening in St Barnabas Church on June 5 2014. Click here to see photos from the event. Phillip Pullman selected David McShane’s play Breaking the Ice as the winner.

All four plays were produced and recorded by Evie at Tom Dick and Debbie Recording Studios  ( in east Oxford and a synopsis of each appears below - just click on the title to hear them.

The Trap Grounds by Heather Dunmore

Revisiting the Trap Grounds (mp3)

The story of Kenneth Grahame who wrote Wind in the Willows emerges in this well researched play that features a conversation between an old Kenneth and his cousin Sir Anthony Hope Hawkins who wrote the Prisoner of Zenda.  Although Graham’s book is much loved, the play shows the author’s upbringing was far from happy when from time to time a younger Kenneth offers views about his childhood and schooling, including St Edward’s school in north Oxford. During his time there he was able to observe wild life around the Oxford Canal as the school playing field run down to its banks and it becomes clear that he drew on these memories in his writing. There is also mention of his son, Alistair, who committed suicide near the Trap Grounds in Oxford and is buried with his mother and father in Holywell Cemetery.

Heather read English at Oxford Brookes University and has pursued her passion for writing drama. She has worked as a house journal editor, freelance journalist and for eight years was a member of the team at the now much-missed Oxfordshire Theatre Company.  In 2011 she was the voluntary Festival Director of Oxfringe, Oxford’s original fringe festival.

Four short pieces of Heather’s were performed at the London home of new writing - Theatre 503 - and last year her play Casualties of War was a joint winner in Sandpit Arts’ Bulbul Competition while her play Margot won the Masque Theatre Playwriting Award. Heather’s play Condemned to Live was performed at the Old Fire Station in Oxford as part of Oxford Fringe 2014.  Her stage play Blue is published by Samuel French. The Wind in the Willows had been one of Heather’s father’s favourite books and she researched Kenneth Grahame’s life in detail for her Oxford Canal Heritage play entry.

Friendship by Kelvin Fawdry

Friendship (mp3)

The play features a dialogue between Joe and Rose Skinner, members of the Skinner family who were strongly connected with canal trade. The other important character that is clearly heard from time to time is Dolly the mule who towed the Skinner’s boat Friendship. The Skinners reflect on their working lives on board Friendship carrying coal and other cargoes from the Midlands to Oxford along the Oxford Canal and also relate Dolly’s history and how she came to be a canal boat mule. They contrast the slow pace of Friendship with the fast pace of the new leisure boat with food for thought about canal heritage.

Kelvin Fawdrey graduated from the University of Exeter with a first class degree in English in 2010 and went on to complete a MSt. English 1800-1914 at St Peter’s College, Oxford in 2013. 'Rubber Dinghy' his second play to be performed at student level about two men lost at sea, was selected as one of four winners of the college’s New Writing Festival in 2012 by Telegraph theatre critic Dominic Cavendish and went onto be performed in rep at the Burton Taylor Studio in Oxford. Kelvin has trained with English PEN and Ovalhouse Theatre, on the Writers’ Programme at the Lyric Hammersmith and is currently enrolled on the Soho Theatre’s Writers’ Lab.

Breaking the Ice by David McShane

Breaking the Ice (mp3)

A bittersweet tale is at the heart of this play about a first date between two men – one older and one younger who are meeting, for the first time, by the Oxford Canal. As they stand and look out across the canal they begin to talk. Charles, the younger of the two men, anxiously reveals a lot about himself whilst questioning Lewis who tends to be more guarded. The tension between the two is broken by Lewis sharing a memory of being on board a boat on the canal with a former lover; a boat that becomes trapped in the ice so that they spend the night there until making their escape in the morning. Charles realises that nothing will come of the date and the play ends with Lewis taking his advice.

David is currently a student of English at St Anne's College Oxford. So far he has had short plays performed at both the Burton Taylor Studio in Oxford and in the Crucible's Studio in Sheffield as part of their writer's scratch night. He has also worked with student radio Oxide on a comedic radio series and, most recently, he has had the pleasure of writing an aria with Music Theatre Wales. Beyond writing, David has a love of painting, drawing and dog walking - all of which he hopes to continue to pursue in the foreseeable future.

Magic Corner by Lara Fairy Love

Magic Corner (mp3)

This play draws on the playwright’s experience of life on board a boat with her children and her love of growing and using herbs providing a device to describe herbs and their uses.  Set in the days of a thriving canal trade, the central character is a young boy who talks about his life on the canal and running about on Port Meadow, conjuring up the freedom he feels. It’s bath time and he describes how his mother puts herbs into a tin bath (that was carried on board narrow boats) and fills it up with hot water. The play ends with them talking together about their lives.

Lara is an mother, traditional birth assistant, fire performer and writer. Having travelled and lived on the edges of society from 19 till 33 she learned many life skills such as wild plant recognition, herbal medicine, barefoot midwifery, spiritual healing, tantric meditation and personal responsibility.

In 2007 she and her children moored their boat at Walton Well Bridge allotment moorings to give the children a static base whilst they attended secondary school.The moorings had been created by John and Lowri Keyes based on a discovery by Green Councillor Sushila Dahl, that this part of Port Meadow was a piece of public land set aside for boaters in the ancient statutes of Oxford. Fully believing in people's rights to travel and live freely Lara and her family have supported Walton Well bridge moorings to create more affordable living spaces in Oxford.

This story is written to remind all the people of oxford about the existence of the magic corner and the wealth of herbs that are there for the health and enjoyment for all!

Oxford Canal Plays – The Team

The Oxford Canal Heritage project is grateful to Katie Baxendale for organising the Oxford Canal plays competition – and to her fellow mentors and Director Hal Chambers  –  and thank everyone for their time and guidance for our amateur writers.  

Mark Haddon

Oxford based, Mark is an internationally acclaimed novelist, playwright, illustrator and artist best known for his work The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night-Time that won The Whitbread Award, Guardian Prize and Commonwealth Writers Prize. It was adapted for stage and went on to win 7 Olivier Awards including Best Play in 2013. Other work includes The Red House, A Spot of Bother and much, much more.

Paul Rutman

Oxford based script writer and producer whose work includes:  Lewis, Agatha Christie’s Marple, Five Days, The Virgin Queen (which was a Bafta winner) and the film Vera (also a Bafta winner). Paul’s new work for television is Indian Summers, a series currently in production with Channel Four and due to be screened in 2015.

Katie Baxendale  

Oxford based script writer whose work include East Enders, At Home with The Braithwaites, Playing The Field and co-creator and Lead Writer on series one and two of Sugar Rush, an adaptation of Julie Burchill's coming of age novel. Series one won an International Emmy and series Two was nominated for Bafta. Her new work From Darkness - a four part thriller for BBC One, is to be filmed in spring 2015.

John Retallack

Oxford based internationally acclaimed playwright, director and head of Writing For Performance at Ruskin College, Oxford, John has written several plays that have gone to tour nationally. Since 2010, John has been an Associate Artist at Bristol Old Vic. From 2001–11, he was the founding director of the London-based Company of Angels that continues to produce new and experimental work for young audiences. 

Hal Chambers

Hal trained at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and National Theatre Studio. He is the Artistic Director of Tucked In Productions, for whom he has written and directed Tim & Light, The Golden Cowpat, Sam Rose in the Shadows and Jackajack. Hal regularly directs drama school productions at the Oxford School of Drama, LAMDA and Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. He also leads education workshops and projects at Shakespeare’s Globe.