Arcola Theatre, London – until 13 July 2019
A compelling and engaging performance from Adam Gillen can’t quite distract from the meandering nature of Al Smith’s play.
Quiet, reflective and thoughtful are three words that automatically spring to mind when leaving the Arcola Theatre after watching Josh Roche’s sincere and heartfelt production of Al Smith’s 2006 play.
Radio sees Charlie Fairbanks reflecting on his life from being born in the centre of the United States at the dead centre of the 20th century up until the present day. He has dreams of going up into space and being an astronaut – but growing up in a world that is constantly changing it is not easy for him to achieve what he wants.
Throughout, Smith’s character and the way in which the play is set up brings to mind another similar personality: Forrest Gump. This is particularly noticeable in the way in which references are made to big events that he lives through including the assassination of President Kennedy and the Vietnam war.
While it is great to hear how Charlie’s life story can work along side these events, further depth could have been added to see how events such as these really impacted on ordinary people’s lives. Aside from the terror that Charlie’s mother feels when she discovers he has signed up to join the army – it feels as though the events mentioned are just thrown in with little context to Charlie’s story, making some parts of the conversation seem as though they are meandering off point.
However, Roche handles Charlie’s story with great sensitivity and respect, highlighting key themes such as family, love and dreams in such a compelling way that the audience can’t help but be drawn in to what is being said. The main thing that you take away from this production is the idea that family and love are at the centre of everything – but it is never preachy in the way this is put across, everything is handled with great warmth and humour.
A lot of the reason that this production is quite compelling to watch is down to Adam Gillen’s engagingly heartfelt performance. Every story of Charlie’s that he recounts, it feels as though he is telling each member of the audience personally. It is a performance that effectively combines sensitivity with great energy and creates a wonderful atmosphere for storytelling.
Overall, Al Smith’s play Radio feels as though it is too meandering to be completely effective, but this production has a charm about it to keep you engaged from start to finish.