to reflect what was going on in theatre. In the 80s radio‘s role shifted again. A lot olst‘nall theatre groups like (‘lyde Unity Theatre have managed to get their plays on by bypassing the main repertory theatres. Radio is now constantly looking for new writers and looking to provide an outlet for the older writers.‘
The more people encouraging new playwrights. the more dividends will be reaped. Radio and stage writing certainly require different skills. but they are inter-related. .lim Kelman‘s next play in the forthcoming season at the Traverse is a case in point. ‘The fact that Kelman was commissioned to write Hardy and Baird for radio all those years ago.‘ says Conn. ‘confirms one of many threads that link radio and theatre. many ofwhich are not noticed. because there is never a subsequent life for the work. 1 think there should be an unselfish eagerness to nourish new writers. whether for radio or theatre. I don‘t think we should be
Conversation with Stewart Conn is like setting light to an arsenal of fireworks. A single idea sparks off a chain reaction ofclauses. sub-clauses. qualifications. indeed everything but the footnotes. to give an all-embracing and fascinating over-view of an issue. Passionate in his commitment to radio plays that talk directly to and about their Scottish audience. Conn knows that his means ofcommunication makes him a member ofa broad church.
‘Radio Scotland has to have within itselfthe tradition ofthe type of programmes on Radios One to Four.‘ he explains. ‘lfyou do a play for London it gets categorised into different slots depending on length or subject matter. Ifwe‘re doing a series in Scotland. rather than pushing them in different directions. they go into one package. The dilemma is that ifthey vary. they go against radio audience conditioning. But ideally you want a mixture of plays and a mixture within each
la .‘ p Ayparticular test of the medium will be Three Way Split a trilogy ofplays by Rona Munro, an established radio playwright and one halfof Doric double-act The MsFits. Due to be broadcast over three weeks from 1 May. the set consists of two monologues and one dialogue which give an uncompromising. but wryly observed study of two thwarted suicide attempts. The risk is that the wait until episode three to discover the fate ofeach lonely individual will be too much of an emotional strain on the listening audience. ‘There is only a certain extent to which one can impose a tempo on the play out ofan awareness that it is going out on Radio Scotland.‘ Conn concedes. ‘There must be an integrity to the emotional and psychological state of mind of those two characters. The whole project is additionally on a tightrope because not until the third one do you get the confrontation. I think you only appreciate how beautifully and
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skilfully written they are when you‘ve heard all three.‘
The trilogy is a rare example of a radio writer working closely with the performers as part of the creative process. Actors Sandy Morton and Caroline Paterson fed into the play‘s blood stream in their responses to notes and photographs brought in by Rona Munro before she launched into the body of the writing. ‘The satisfaction from my point of view.‘ says Conn. ‘was that I wasn’t casting two people who would be presented with a script and given two days in a radio studio unable to do it justice. Not many circumstances would enable one to commission two single-handers and a double-hander in advance.’
Conn is blowing no trumpets about the new season. It's a short series of short plays serving as an appetiser for the major works that will be possible again after the return to Queen Street when he. Patrick Rayner and Hamish Wilson will have a home worthy of their department‘s high reputation. But. in a series that promises a vigorous mix of style and invention. the young writers involved demonstrate a lively aptitude for the medium — witness Anne Downie‘s Nothing But The Best broadcast last Tuesday. whose chorus devise was a witty trick to reveal her characters‘ thoughts and attitudes. The problem for the BBC is to trap a young audience to match the young plays.
‘You have to have people within a drama department who can create an awareness of the medium amongst young writers themselves.‘ says Conn. conscious that much of his output goes out on the channel whose Today programme votes M rs Thatcher Woman ofthe Year. ‘Tiven ifyou create that awareness -- and a number ofwriters. Rona Munro. Stephen Greenhorn. Kathleen Jamie. are ofa younger. exciting generation — the terrible problem is attracting the same age group which is not a listening audience.‘
And the less people are aware of radio and its capabilities. the more misconceptions about this versatile medium can arise. ‘There‘s an assumption on behalfolTV script editors.‘ says Conn. ‘that if a script comes in looking like it‘s got linguistic measles. peppered with words. then it‘s for radio. Radio cannot be as extremely economical as television. because it has to convey visuals in the text. but too many people forget that it's not just a soundtrack and that it has an economy and precision of its own. In the majority of unsolicited scripts we get. there is too much talk and no style imposed upon the dialogue. People send stage plays and say. could you consider it for radio or television. That in itself reveals a frightening lack ofsensitivity towards the requirements of the medium.‘
‘We get a lot of scripts that if they didn‘t say ‘A Play For Radio’ on the front. you couldn‘t tell.‘
BB( ' Radio Scotland '5 New Play Season continues a! l..t’()pm every Tuesday and! 12 June.
The List 20 April — 3 May I‘NUQ