Friday 26 September 2008

Friday Interview: Colin MacDonald - The Whole of the Moon

The subject of this week's Friday Interview is Scottish playwright Colin MacDonald, whose poignant radio play Hill of Rains I blogged about earlier this year.

Colin (centre) with cast members from his comedy, King Of Hearts, BBC Scotland

Colin, your latest radio work is a five-parter, The Whole of the Moon. What is it about?

It's a story about secrets, set in Edinburgh's legal world. It's about an up-and-coming prosecutor, Jo Ross, who finds herself investigating the secret history of her own family, and in particular the deeds of her father, a veteran police officer. I was allowed unlimited access behind-the-scenes in the Scottish courts while doing research for the story.

The title comes from The Waterboys' song of the same name:

'I pictured a rainbow
You held in your hands
I had flashes
But you saw then plan
I wandered out in the world for years
While you just stayed in your room
I saw the crescent
You saw the whole of the moon . . .'

How much have you been involved in the casting and production?

A lot! I have worked with the producer and director Patrick Rayner many times and we talked about casting as I was writing. But Patrick is a renowned expert when it comes to casting. In his long and award-strewn career he has worked with so many actors, and knows instinctively who could play a certain role best. As a result, we have a superb cast who worked so very well together in the studio.

Vicki Liddell and Steve McNicoll are the two leads and they inhabit wonderfully the characters I created. I was there, as always, during the two days of recording. Lines have to be changed because even although I might say them out loud when I've written them (and I do!) they might not have the proper rhythm when actors say them in the studio. Also scenes may need changing when cuts, because of timings, have to be made.

Is writing five daily episodes more of a challenge than writing a single, self-contained play?

I'd never done it before, so writing five fifteen-minute episodes certainly concentrated my mind on getting on with the story. I like a challenge - it is good to be shaken out of your comfort zone!

The characters sound fascinating. Do you have plans to explore their stories further in the future?

Yes, Radio 4 have just commissioned a second series. That will go out next year. The two central characters Jo Ross and Iain Rae have been 'with me' for a long time and I am keen that they develop and grow as people as the stories progress.

I first came across your work through your radio play, Hill of Rains, which starred two of radio's most distinctive voices - Bill Paterson and Lorelei King. What were they like to work with, and how well do you think they interpreted the characters you'd written?

They were extraordinary people to work with. I could not now differentiate between the characters I heard in my head and those two wonderful actors. When you have people that gifted working on something you wrote it is an absolute joy. They brought magic to it, and an intimacy that is rare.

Hill of Rains made a marked impression on me because of the great depth of feeling which seemed to underpin the 'romantic comedy' aspect of the story. Did you set out to write a romantic piece or was it always your intention to explore more profound themes at the same time?

I don't ever set out to write about a particular theme. It is normally the person who 'appears' to me. And that can be triggered by observing someone's hand movement, or someone's gesture. In this case, I was walking in Edinburgh on a winter's afternoon. The sun was low and I became aware of someone walking over a small hill away from me, and the person's silhouette in the sun was exactly the same as my mother's. She had died a couple of years before. The story grew out of that mood, and that extraordinary moment.

And the music - Peter Maxwell Davies's Farewell to Stromness - for me it was absolutely perfect. Whose idea was that?

The producer and director Marilyn Imrie takes all the credit for that.

You've also dramatised one of my favourite books, Nancy Brysson Morrisson's The Gowk Storm , as a stage play. (How I wish I'd seen that!) What inspired you to turn that particular novel into a play?

The cover of the book! I was in a bookshop . . . and the cover stood out from all the other covers. It was spooky, as if I was being haunted by that face. I bought the book, took it home, and read it in an afternoon. I knew as I was reading it that I wanted to bring it to the stage. It was so dramatic, so moody, so atmospheric.

Cover of the Canongate edition, featuring 'Head of a Young Girl' by George Clausen

So, some similar themes to those in Hill of Rains, then?

Women trapped by men! It's beginning to sound like a familiar theme although I don't do themes!

And full of the importance of Scottish weather, too. Is that a coincidence?

I am affected by the weather. I remember running wild in the wind when I was a child. And growing up in the far North of Scotland you are affected, deeply, by whatever the climate brings!

Are there any plans for another stage production of The Gowk Storm?

In these financially straightened times it would be difficult. It had a cast of ten, which is enormous. But if any millionaire philanthropist is reading this blog . . . you know where to find me.

And after The Whole of the Moon - what's next in the pipeline?

I am finishing a stage play which will be staged at Oran mor in Glasgow at the end of November. It's called The Bones Boys, and will be staged in the A Play A Pie A Pint series. It's about two monks, on a journey fraught with danger.

Oran mor

Many thanks, Colin, for being the subject of this week's Friday Interview.

You can listen to The Whole of the Moon
every weekday on Woman's Hour from Monday 29th September, at 10.45-11.00 am and again at 7.45-8.00 pm on Radio 4, and each episode will be available on 'listen again' for seven days following its broadcast.

And finally, for anyone unfamiliar with the original Water Boys song which inspired the title of the drama, here they are singing The Whole of the Moon in 1985:


Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Such an interesting blog you have. I've enjoyed visiting very much!

Best to you from us both!

Unknown said...

Thank you sooooo much for the clip and trip down memory lane!I used to hang out with Mike Scott and his first band (Another Pretty Face) in Edinburgh in the late 70s. Lovely guy, great musician, still in sporadic touch with him. If you're reading this, Mike, it's hi from Charlie Harper...