AN Essex University lecturer who was inspired to write a play after seeing seals in Shetland has seen her work win two gongs at an annual awards ceremony.

The work by Professor Elizabeth Kuti scooped the Best Original Single Drama and Best Actor prizes at the BBC Audio Awards.

Sea Longing, which was broadcast on BBC Radio 3, 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.

Prof Kuti, who is head of Essex’s Department of Literature, Film and Theatre Studies, said: “The play nearly didn’t happen and I had to 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 folktales he has collected and recorded himself.

Prof 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,” she said.

“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.

“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.”

Prof Kuti added: “Stephen’s performance was extraordinary, spontaneous, 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 real and intimate.”