Review: Radio at Arcola Theatre
- Credit: Archant
Al Smith’s one-man play about an all-American boy who dreams of taking part in the moon landing was first seen in 2006.
It's a tender father-son story that sees the hopeful optimism of the space race give way to the dark realities of the Vietnam War.
Given the current crisis in American identity, a revival seems timely. Under the taut direction of Josh Roche, an atmospheric world of Middle American spit and sawdust life is vividly conjured.
But the sweep of the narrative - spanning decades - and the rich detail rather obscures the continuing relevance of its central themes.
Smith plays with a poetic notion of determinism: Charlie Fairbanks was born in the dead centre of the United States at the dead centre of the 20th century.
When a team from the Geographical Society turn up laden with maps and compasses to decree that the family farm - outside Lebanon, Kansas - is 'the dead centre of the United States - Congratulations!' his baffled parents soon seize the opportunity to produce flags for goggle-eyed tourists desperate to find the center of their national pride.
Alongside his parents, Charlie spends hours stitching stars ands stripes onto endless fabric, the family glued to the radio that brings them news, music and access to 'that pure dream world'.
- 1 'Catastrophic consequences': Thousands of unvaccinated could lose work at Homerton Hospital
- 2 Dalston delivery drivers demand shelter, safety and 'dignity'
- 3 Man rushed to hospital following Stoke Newington stabbing
- 4 Revealed: Hackney, Islington and Newham are boroughs with most LTNs
- 5 Travel disruptions: Hackney, Islington, Tower Hamlets, Newham
- 6 Gun found in car as Met makes 130 arrests during drugs op
- 7 Woman 'may face life-changing injuries' after Dalston e-scooter crash
- 8 Three jailed after 'horrific' revenge attack on teenage boy near Finsbury Park
- 9 Hackney leaders warn of long-term funding crisis
- 10 Library of Things opens in Dalston: Steam cleaners, tools and more for rent
When Charles Senior is offered a large sum for their land, they move to North Dakota and it seems their flag making days are over.
But, coincidentally, the centre of America shifts again - with the addition of Alaska - and the Fairbanks are soon 'back in business'.
Charlie references key historical moments: Apollo 12 being struck by lightning, the change of Presidents, the Vietnam War but the milestones strike easy notes of emotional significance.
Likewise the cosmic metaphors are predictable, though the spare set, broken up by an abstract mix of wood, provides an original backdrop for a beautifully rendered scene where Charlie imagines he's in the Apollo spacecraft.
Adam Gillen as Charlie is perfect as a dazed lost boy/ man struggling to navigate a path through this fast-track slice of American history.
It's a shame the play doesn't ultimately quite take off.