Olwynne Macrae, interviewed in 1979
by Bill Leatwick

Radio New Zealand, 17 Jun 1979, edited slightly for clarity - ND.

BL: Olwynne's play, 'No Sun, No Moon', was runner-up in the BBC Worldwide Play Writing Contest. ...Olwynne explains the theme of it.

OM: It is a study of difficulties a man would have were he to be blinded suddenly in middle life. This doesn't happen very often. I went to see Terry Smallwood, who was head of the transcription department; I'd seen him on TV a few days previously and I'd been most impressed by the fire of this man. I rang him and told him what I wanted to write; could I come and talk to him? Now Terry's been blind from birth; he's never seen; I spent two or three hours with him...he is the most articulate, sensitive and perceptive man I have ever spoken to; I ended up feeling that I was the handicapped one. He was very generous with his talk; he spoke of personal things like the difficulties of marriage between the blind and the sighted. I couldn't have written it down without having talked to someone like this.

BL: Have you entered a contest before?

OM: No, mainly because there's aren't all that many. Radio New Zealand chartered the Airplay competition; it didn't come. I sent for the Australian competition; only open to Australians or those based there, which is fair enough.

BL: Why did you enter this one?

OM: If you are trying to make a reputation for yourself I think you've got to test yourself against that kind of level.

BL: What are the conditions of entry in a competition like this?

OM:The play has to be an hour long. The theme was 'the rich and the poor', which could be very broadly interpreted. It must not have been previously published or broadcast.... I was astonished when I heard the result (OM was runner-up). The winner was an Indian woman who wrote a play called Brides Are Not For Burning. I wrote to Dickon Reed, who is the senior producer of World Drama. He wrote back saying it was a suicide mystery with a strong socio-political background.

BL: When did you begin playwriting?

OM: When I joined TV2, just before it went on air. That was soap opera, but it was still being involved with characters and interaction and dialogue.

BL: You were involved as a script editor, and you also wrote an episode of the Ngaio Marsh Theatre and you've written a lot of radio drama. How difficult is it to write for radio on the one hand and TV on the other?

OM: Chris Hampson says he can still 'see' my characters when I write. I do too; I see where they are in relation to the set or 'home' I put them in, and I still have a habit of putting stage directions in, like 'he puts down his briefcase and kisses her'. I don't think this is a bad thing. .... but Chris still says that I don't always hear my dialogue. He's probably quite right.

BL: You were recently involved in the production of a radiio drama; I saw you here (Auckland) at our studio working with Roy Leywood. What was your role as the author? How much involvement did you have in the rpoduction and rehearsal period?

OM: Roy has asked me in for three productions; I'm allowed to sit in. It's a compliment and privilege because you learn so much about what works and what doesn't. You learn that if you put in sound effects they can be very irritating, so you learn not to put them in unless they're necessary. My role was as a reference point; if someone didn't like the dialogue, or if it was difficult to say or didn't understand it; if they didn't know quite enough about the character they'd ask a question..... but really, with Roy, he doesn't need me there.

I wasn't there for the recording of 'As Dies the Dolphin' which is the play that was runner-up in the World Play Competition but I changed the title to 'No Sun, No Moon'.... I've heard the first tape, and it was superb. Roy is quite uncanny; he can say any line of your dialogue in exactly the way that you heard it when you wrote it. He never puts a syllable wrong. The most beautiful voice; I long to write a play for him.

BL: Olwynne, you've written so much for television and radio. What about live theatre?

OM: I had a play broadcast earlier this month called 'That Bread Should Be So Dear', which I originally planned for television, but John Macrae, who was then my boss, had no space for modern drama, and I wrote it just after I began freelancing, because radio was buying plays. Ian Newlyn who took the lead said that he would love to see it on television, and Ellie O'Sullivan who produced it most beautifully, said she'd love to see it on stage. I'm just about to write to Raymond Hawthorne about it; I think on stage it would go very well; a dramatic, savage play.

BL: What's coming up for you?

OM: I'm stuck on a play at the moment which has its beginnings in a poem by Kathleen Grattham on the abdication of a woman who's run her house for fifty years and then has to go and live with her married daughter, and it's a very sad situation .... where she has been autocrat and boss, and she has to say 'may I have a piece of toast' and 'may I clean out the fridge'. 'May I have a shower, please?" is what I've called it.

BL: Thank you, Olwynne Macrae, runner-up in the recent BBC Worldwide Play Writing Contest .....

This piece was transcribed from a tape sent by Merrily Willis, daughter of Olwynne Macrae, and is reproduced by permission.

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