Risky Pinter play up for two awards

Andrew Scott Andrew Scott is up for a best actor award for Betrayal. He won best supporting actor last year.

A play which a producer didn't think would make it to air has been nominated for two awards.

Radio producer Gaynor Macfarlane didn't think Harold Pinter's Betrayal would 'ever be a goer on Radio 4' because of two instances of swearing.

To her surprise, the play went ahead as originally written but with warnings about the strong language.

The radio drama has earned the producer two nominations - for best actor (Andrew Scott) and best single play - at the BBC's Audio and Drama Awards on Sunday.

Betrayal, says Macfarlane, is one of her favourite Pinter plays and also his most autobiographical. It is considered by many critics to be his masterpiece.

The play is based on Pinter's intense, seven-year affair with Joan Bakewell; they were both married to other people at the time.

Written in 1978, the chronology is mostly in reverse, starting with the reunion of a couple who had betrayed each other years earlier. Macfarlane says the use of a backwards timeline is 'very clever'.

'It leads the audience not to focus on what happens next, as we already know, but to concentrate on how things turned out as they did and to consider whether or not the love affair was ultimately worth the hurt, the sadness and cynicism that we have already witnessed.'

Modern audience

Macfarlane, who has been producing for 12 years, first discovered Pinter 'thousands of years ago at university'. It's the first time she has adapted one of his plays for radio.

She admits the language had put her off suggesting it for adaptation, as the Pinter estate does not allow any changes to be made to his work.

While some theatre directors might feel nerves when staging a play that's widely considered a modern classic, Macfarlane didn't dwell on it much.

'I didn't feel the weight of history hanging upon me, by any means,' the senior content producer says. 'We were making it for another generation - you had the sense that it had to chime with an audience now, an audience from 2012.'

'Uniformly brilliant'

One of the challenges to the production was the silences and pauses written into the play - there are over a hundred and they are incredibly important. 'The characters struggle to articulate their own responses to betrayal; their betrayal of each other, their children and their idea of themselves,' the drama producer explains.

She credits the four actors for being 'uniformly brilliant' and believes it helped that none of them had ever encountered the work before, which meant it came across as fresh and new.

Although the play has undertones of menace, their approach was to focus on the love between the characters. 'We felt that the more we concentrated on love, then the more the play would resonate - and be heart-breaking.'

We're here

Andrew Scott's performance in Betrayal has earned him a nomination for best actor at Sunday's award ceremony. The actor, who plays Moriarty in BBC One's Sherlock, also won best supporting actor at last year's BBC Audio and Drama Awards.

He's a rising star, believes Macfarlane, who says she would like to perhaps do another Pinter play in future.

'I may try to do something for Radio 3, but it depends on what they want.' She adds with a laugh: 'I don't want to turn into a go-to Pinter person.'

Macfarlane's recent success with Betrayal - it aired in an afternoon slot in June - is something about which she talks modestly, even though it's her first award nomination.

'I don't want to make too much of it. The awards are a way of audio drama celebrating itself to some extent and saying, We're here. Because it's overshadowed by television and gets no publicity.'

• BBC Audio and Drama Awards, January 27, Radio Theatre, Broadcasting House

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