Play exploring stories of the selkie wins two BBC awards

  • Date

    Thu 13 Feb 20

From left: Karen Rose (producer), Elizabeth Kuti, Philip Selway (composer), Jo McInnes (Director), and Stephen Dillane with their BBC awards for Sea Longing

The latest play written by Professor Elizabeth Kuti has won the Best Original Single Drama and Best Actor prizes at the BBC Audio Awards.

Sea Longing, which was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in December, tells the story of folklore expert Robert Whyman and his encounters with the mythological selkie, or seal folk.

The drama explores the relationship between selkie and seal stories with some of the darker sides of love, longing, taboo and conflict. Acclaimed actor Stephen Dillane picked up the top acting award for his role in the play.

Professor Kuti, Head of the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies, said: “The play very nearly didn’t happen and I had to completely rewrite the script only a few days before recording began. It was a labour of love for all involved so to have finished by picking up the Best Original Single Drama award is just a joy.”

The play recounts the memories of Robert Whyman as he is interviewed by his daughter about the many folktales he has collected and recorded himself. Professor Kuti was inspired after visiting Shetland where she encountered seals, becoming intrigued by the line between the animal and the human.

“Seals are really strange creatures, they look as though they are searching for something. You can see why the people of those places thought they were humans who had become animals, or that some people were really selkies who had taken human form,” she explained.

“The particular torture for selkies is that when they are at sea they long to be on land, and when they are on land, they long to be in the sea. So it also became a play about displacement and exile.”

Professor Elizabeth Kuti
The play very nearly didn't happen. It was a labour of love for all involved so to have finished by picking up the Best Original Single Drama award is just a joy."
Professor Elizabeth Kuti department of literature, film, and theatre studies

Speaking about Stephen Dillane’s win, Professor Kuti added: “Stephen’s performance was extraordinary, very spontaneous, very nuanced and delicate.

“I wanted it to feel like eavesdropped conversations and he gave it that quality of a montage of different recorded voices which felt very real and very intimate, in part because we recorded it in a real kitchen, not a studio.”

Professor Kuti has previously explored folklore around the sea in her play Fishkin Trousers.

Sea Longing was directed by actor and co-founder of APE Theatre Company Jo McInnes with a score composed by Philip Selway, best known as the drummer from Radiohead. 

Professor Kuti collected her award at a ceremony at Broadcasting House in London.