Radius is an ecumenical charity which promotes the performance and study of religious drama, defined as ‘drama which illuminates the human condition’. Most but not all members are Christians.
Radius (or The Religious Drama Society, as it was then) was founded in 1929 with a strong commitment to exploring religion through the arts. The driving force behind the society in its early years was the director and theologian E Martin Browne, who mentored T S Eliot and founded the wartime touring company The Pilgrim Players, taking live theatre into schools, barns and air-raid shelters.
Early members of the Society included well-known actors such as Sybil Thorndike and authors such as T S Eliot and Dorothy L Sayers, whose ground-breaking and controversial cycle of plays, The Man Born to be King (1943) was broadcast by the BBC. In 1951 the society commissioned Christopher Fry’s verse drama A Sleep of Prisoners for the Festival of Britain and Martin Browne directed the first revival of the York mystery plays.
After the war Radius set up an annual summer school to give amateur drama practitioners the chance of a week’s training with professionals. These continued until 2004 when they were replaced by day and weekend workshops. Meanwhile Radius’s playwriting operation gathered strength, pioneering the concept of flexible playscripts, commissioning new plays, and giving advice and encouragement to playwrights.
The Society believes that religious drama should relate to and reflect on historical and social change, and it has become less centralized and more ecumenical over the years.
After the war a strong branch developed in the north of England under the leadership of Pamela Keily who was awarded the MBE for her services to religious drama. Radius gave up its fixed premises in 2006, when unpublished typescripts were deposited with the British Library and archival material with the V&A Theatre Collections. The Society is now run from members’ homes. In the 21st century we have expanded into social media, the creation of videos, and during the 2020 Lockdown into a call-out for plays with a Zoom scenario.
When Nick Warburton’s award-winning series of radio plays, Witness, was first broadcast almost fifty years after Dorothy L Sayers’s The Man Born to be King the wheel might appear to have come full circle, but the creative coalescence of amateurs and professionals on which Radius has thrived until now is still finding new ways to explore the scope of faith-based drama in the 21st century and to support those who want to share in it.
The Right Revd Dr Stephen Platten is the sixth President of the Society. Dr Platten has been Dean of Norwich and Bishop of Wakefield, and maintains an active commitment to ministry through the arts.
People of vision
Dame Judi Dench, one of our Patrons, started her career in the York Mystery Plays revived by Radius’s second President E Martin Browne in 1951. We draw inspiration from all those who have achieved the highest standards in the theatre and who have felt that the society deserved their support.
The Right Rev Dr Rowan Williams, formerly Archbishop of Canterbury, is a Patron of the Society. Dr Williams is an acclaimed poet who has a keen practical and theoretical interest in drama.
Captain Shotover in Heartbreak House – George Bernard Shaw, 1856-1950