Words on Waves: Selected Radio Plays


279 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography
ISBN 0-88794-197-4






Reviewed by Pauline Carey

Pauline Carey is an actor, playwright and librettist and author of the
children’s books Magic and What’s in a Name?


This book consists of eight scripts written during the Golden Age of Canadian radio drama, namely in the forties and fifties, with a preface by the author and a critical introduction by Howard Fink. The collection comprises three adaptations/translations of early English poetry (Beowulf, Gawain and The Green Knight, and Piers Plowman), two “free adaptations” of stories by Conrad and Frank R. Stockton (The Duel and The Griffin and the Minor Canon), one very free adaptation of a medieval mystery play with a contemporary setting in British Columbia (The Third “Shepherds’ Play”), and two original works — Court Martial (in collaboration with Mayor Moore) and the poetic drama Damnation of Vancouver.

The book makes a couple of unintentional points about Canadian drama and the CBC thirty-odd years ago. Of the fourteen radio dramas Earle Birney wrote, only three were original scripts, and The Third “Shepherds’ Play,” in which Birney’s sense of fun comes most happily off the page, was never produced.

The volume holds more of historic interest than dramatic value, but the playfulness and richness of Birney’s language are always present. The best play comes at the end of the book. Damnation of Vancouver is a satiric dig at Canadian concerns and a lively juggling of poetic styles.


Birney, Earle, “Words on Waves: Selected Radio Plays,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 13, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/36025.