Spoonface Steinberg (BBC Radio Four, 1997)

Lee Hall’s Spoonface Steinberg, directed by Kate Rowland on Radio Four on 22 January 1997, will be heard at the British Library at 6.00pm on 3 December 2015 as the fifth in a five-part series of public listenings on the theme of ‘Inner Voices…Inner Worlds’.

Professor Hugh Chignell of Bournemouth University offers some background to this work:


‘I love the beautiful women who do the operas, and how they sing’ (Spoonface in Spoonface Steinberg)

Spoonface SteinbergSpoonface Steinberg is one of the most well-known and acclaimed radio dramas of recent years. The scriptwriter Lee Hall (Billy Elliot, War Horse) is a highly successful multi-media writer with an interest in radio, the stage and film. The director Kate Rowland created the BBC Writersroom in the year following the 1997 broadcast of Spoonface.

The drama consists of a narrative spoken by a seven-year-old girl who is described in the sleeve notes for the BBC Radio Collection audiocassette as being:

Jewish, autistic, very bright – and terminally ill with cancer. Her doctor introduces her to opera and she becomes fascinated with the music and the divas who have glorious stage deaths. As she tried to come to terms with the meaning of life and death the big question for Spoonface is, does nothing exist?

Themes addressed include terminal illness, a child’s view of parental separation and the holocaust. To add yet more power to the drama we hear Maria Callas’s performance of ‘Vissi d’arte’ from Puccini’s Tosca.

Spoonface Steinberg became something of an artistic phenomenon: almost immediately repeated on Radio Four, it was then sold very successfully as an audiocassette. The script was published in a radio drama collection and Spoonface Steinberg transferred successfully to the stage and, to date, there have been at least five different stage productions as well as a television adaptation in 1998.

Spoonface SteinbergDespite the great acclaim for this programme, Spoonface Steinberg has the potential to divide audience opinion. In the public discussion to follow this last listening event in the series, it will be interesting to see what our audience thinks of Lee Hall’s representation of a dying child. Comparisons can be drawn with our first listening event, Beckett’s All That Fall, as both works combine dark themes with humour and both make use of classical music. Similarly obvious similarities exist with Walk Right by Me – both monologues, both explorations of our central themes of inner voices and inner worlds.

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