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Review Radio at Arcola Theatre

Adam Gillen (Charlie Fairbanks). Credit - Helen Maybanks
Adam Gillen (Charlie Fairbanks). Credit – Helen Maybanks

Charlie Fairbanks (Adam Gillen) quietly commands the stage in Radio, a somewhat intense and introspective look at an era half a century ago – at a time when the Moon landings were considered by some to be a mere conspiracy by the American Government of the day to take away the focus from the war effort in Vietnam (and, although not explicitly mentioned, the Cold War too). Fairbanks tells his own story with confidence, even if the narrative meanders from time to time. For instance, there’s a digression into how his parents met one another, which might have been better placed towards the beginning of the story.

This being a single-performer show, it’s also a single perspective show. Fairbanks doesn’t do badly, however, at voicing and portraying what others said, though what we hear other people to have said is, of course, dependent on how reliable he is perceived to be as a narrator by the audience. He enjoys a good rapport – always good to see – initially reliant on his childhood innocence to explain why he displayed certain behaviours as a boy.

His ambition, perhaps fuelled by the ‘space race’, to be an astronaut, is perhaps something he may have had wanted to achieve had he been a schoolboy in 2019 rather than having been born in 1950. The world, then as now, is changing, and not in every circumstance for the better, or so it seems – so why wouldn’t someone want to escape from it all, even if it meant quite literally leaving the planet as part of one’s job description? There’s also something to be said about shooting for the stars and achieving something greater than one would have done if one hadn’t bothered at all.

There are, however, two main problems. The first is that the play itself cites the major events of the era but doesn’t offer very much (if any) insight that couldn’t have been easily found elsewhere. All Fairbanks has to say about John F. Kennedy is: “I guess the President’s death shoved us [the United States] into the real world for the first time”. Notwithstanding that there are older events in American history that have made the citizens of that nation take stock, it is almost as if some events are acknowledged simply because it may come across as odd if they were not. But in some respects, it is better to keep the focus on what is essentially a very personal story, and not bother name-dropping other external events unless, like the Moon landings, they have direct relevance to the story being told.

The second problem is that the play doesn’t sound all that American. By this, I do not mean to fault Gillen’s accent – it was more than convincing to my ears – but Fairbanks’ demeanour is rather tentative and reticent. In other words, he’s more ‘British’ than ‘American’, which, while achieving a greater sense of relatability with a London audience, still doesn’t quite come across as entirely authentic. When there is a sense of bravado, this seems more to do with youthful exuberance than a pursuance of the American Dream.

Still, as monologues go, there’s enough juicy material to maintain an audience’s interest in this thoughtful coming of age story.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Charlie Fairbanks (Adam Gillen) was born in the dead centre of the United States at the dead centre of the twentieth century. Americans are going to the Moon and Charlie’s sure he’ll be the first one there. But as he shines his spotlight on the Moon, so too does it illuminate the darker side to his nation’s history.

The production sees Audible, the world’s leading producer and provider of spoken-word entertainment deepens its commitment to UK theatre.

Q&A with Director Josh Roche

By Al Smith
Directed by Josh Roche
At Arcola Theatre
24 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London E8 3DL
19 June – 13 July 2019


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