Sometime between Macgregor's Gathering and the Art Sutter Show, Radio
Scotland is slipping in a healthy dose of new Scottish drama. Mark Fisher squeezes into the BBC‘s temporary offices to quiz poet and radio producer Stewart Conn about the
state of the airwaves.
Poor old Radio Scotland. For three years they've been in exile from their natural home in Edinburgh‘s Queen Street. forced to inhabit warren-like offices up the road in Thistle Street. or even — ignominy ofignominies— railroaded to studios in Glasgow or London. Stewart Conn. drama director. greets me in the pocket-sized lobby and ushers me through the news room. down a stair-well and into a board room many would be too proud to call a cupboard.
Ten minutes into our conversation a man arrives to change a light bulb. To invert the joke. it's surprising how many light bulbs it takes to change a cupboard. But the light bulb man gives the game away. Like a station elevator on a wet Saturday afternoon. this room proves that three really is a crowd. It‘s no big deal. but the strain is showing on Conn.
Surely this is no way to run a drama department? ‘There has been great inhibition in not having a studio
these three years.‘ Conn admits. ‘Not simply because you have to get on a train and go to London. but because it‘s precluded the way of life by not having the environment there.‘ The sense of a theatre as a physical entity is important. although not one normally associated with radio. The medium can sometimes be accused ofschizophrenia — think how many times the word theatre is used as a blanket heading for Radio 4 plays that have no unified audience. no proscenium arch. no ices in the interval. indeed none of the standard trappings oftheatre-going. Television gives us Play For Today and 4-Play. where radio insists on 30-minute Theatre and Saturday Night Theatre. But the similarities and connections between radio and stage drama are many and. especially in Scotland. it is important to understand the relationship. Looking down the list of nine plays in Radio Scotland‘s New Play Season. just started last week. the
credits could come from any of out? producing theatres. Amongst the writers are Anne Downie. Michael Duke. Rona Munro and (iurmeet Mattu. while performers include Grace Glover. Simon Donald. Caroline Paterson and tnany other frequent visitors to the Scottish stage. ‘The day that radio drama ceases to be part of the body corporate of Scottish theatre. it's dead.‘ says (‘onn. himself an established writer for the stage. "The one complements the other. The role of radio shifts in relation to theatre. In the ﬁlls the onus on radio was to do work by new writers. because theatres were not doing them. Radio bore the brunt —- even the Glasgow University Arts Theatre was doing more new plays by Scots than any theatre in Scotland.
‘In the 70s when theatre was very generously subsidised] he continues. ‘there was not such a burden. because radio was not getting scripts that couldn‘t go on anywhere else. Radio‘s role was then
8 The List 20 April — 3 May 1990