Something Wicked This Way Comes
Radio drama, Colonial Radio Theatre, October 2007.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
Bradbury first presented it on stage with his Pandemonium Theater Company, Los Angeles, October 2003.
play has not yet been published in print.
Dramatised by Ray
Bradbury, from his novel
Green Town, Illinois. October. As Halloween approaches, Will and Jim head for their fourteenth birthdays.
A lightning rod salesman warns of a coming storm, and his prophecy is fulfilled when Cooger and Dark's carnival comes to town. Along with the other townsfolk, Will and Jim and drawn to the carnival, where stange things happen: people enter a mirror maze and are drowned by the images they see; they ride backwards on a carousel and get younger.
The town is ultimately saved through the action of Will's father, Mr Halloway. This unassuming librarian has been troubled by his advancing years, but finds a way to undermine Mr Dark's plans...
This audio production of Something Wicked is adapted from Bradbury's stage play, rather than directly from the novel. However, unlike the stage version of Dandelion Wine, in which Bradbury places a reflexive framing story around the events of his original book, here he provides a straighforward, almost literal dramatisation.
Following Colonial's production of Dandelion Wine, Bradbury offered them the chance to produce Something Wicked. He immediately supplied them with his stage script, and within a month the lead roles had been cast.
The only significant change from the novel is the elimination of nearly all of the introspection, particularly that of Charles Halloway. None of this seems to harm the dramatic development of the story - in fact, it works wonders for the pace of the story, turning Something Wicked into something of a rollercoaster ride. Lots of twists and turns, but with rare opportunity to draw breath.
Bradbury has not removed the key scene between Jim and his mom, although this is one of the more reflective moments of the book. The version in the book seems richer, however, as mom is more hurt by fear of Jim's future actions, and Jim seems more contrary than in the play. This scene also sets Jim up nicely for being called a "bastard" later in the play.
Occasionally, Bradbury has taken introspective moments fom the book and brought them to life through dialogue. A notable example is after mom leaves the room, when Jim opens the window and shouts at the coming storm.
As an audio drama, this production has to do battle with the advantages and disadvantages of the medium. On the plus side, the audio play can conjure up images far greater than any stage designer could realise. And so it is that the carnival, the calliope and the parade are all more terrifying than their stage equivalents are likely to be. But on the negative side, the audio play can struggle to give a sense of geography. Some sections work well: I believed that Jim and Will had facing bedroom windows, although I don't recall anyone specifically describing this in the play. Occasionally, though, it's difficult to picture precisely where we are meant to be.
Jerry Robbins, who edited the script for radio, confesses that he had to add the occasional clarifying line of dialogue, along the lines of "Quick, behind that tree!"
The triumph of Something Wicked is undoubtedly in the audio treatment. Sound effects and music are beautifully interweaved to bring the carnival to life (or should I say death...) The calliope music is highly appropriate, and is strangely recognisable even in a key scene when played backwards. According to Colonial's Blog, post-production on the play took an extraordinarily long time, from August 2006 to June 2007.
The carnival freaks - who I believe are mostly silent in the novel - are here given presence by some frightening guttural groans.
The finest performances in the play come from J.T.Turner as a charming but disturbing and menacing Mr Dark, and Jerry Robbins as the largely unassuming Mr Halloway. Halloway is an unlikely hero, but he comes to life most convincingly in the final scenes. Robbins reports that he had Gregory Peck in mind as he developed his performance.
The boys, played by Anastas Varinos and Matthew Scott-Robertson, are typical Bradbury young teens. Jim and Will need to be similar yet distinctive, as they function almost as lighter and darker versions of a single character. Throughout the play there are moments where Jim and Will speak simultaneously, and these are handled well. But Anastas and Matthew also work well together when Jim and Will have moments of antagonism. The pace of the play is perhaps hardest for the young actors to cope with. At times it is as if Bradbury has given them too much to say in too little time.
According to Jerry Robbins, the auditions for the roles of Will and Jim brought forth five excellent performers, which prompted the idea of producing The Halloween Tree - in order that all five could be used.
The final scenes of Something Wicked differ slightly from the novel. Mr Dark seems to survive just a little longer in the play, long enough to have a final confrontation with Halloway. As in the film of Something Wicked this helps to mark Mr Dark out as the villain of the piece, whereas in the book he is just one of the embodiments of evil in the carnival.
The very final scene, according to Jerry Robbins, draws on the novel rather than the stage play script. In the stage play, the boys and Mr Halloway run to touch the barber's pole, which is present on stage throughout the play. But Robbins asked Bradbury if he could revert to the idea from the novel, that they should run to the railroad semaphore. Bradbury gave his approval to this suggestion.
This production makes a fine companion piece to Colonial's earlier production of Dandelion Wine, and its fidelity to the novel should make it particularly useful to anyone who uses Something Wicked in the classroom. And it will make great halloween listening. Just remember to listen on a BIG sound system.
Speaking of Halloween, Jerry Robbins has been working on the script of The Halloween Tree, which is Colonial's next Bradbury production.
Robbins, J. (2007) Private correspondence
and other information can be found at Colonial
Radio Theatre's website.