Daniel Mahoney interviews writer/director Archie Thomson and producer Emma Irving about their production ‘Radio.’
Firstly, what is Radio about?
Archie Radio is about six students and their last day in their university house. Clustered around the kitchen table, it all seems like a recognisable vignette until a forgotten radio at the back starts spewing secrets to people who were never meant to hear them…
Where did the inspiration for this story come from?
Archie: From two places, really. I happened across a great short film called The Gunfighter, in which the traditional voiceover becomes another character who is set on provoking revelations about the inhabitants of a Wild West town. I couldn’t help but wonder what the malicious voice would expose if it came on in my own student house. Secondly, the rise of technology is affecting our generation in ways that are unprecedented. The idea of constant surveillance, of a generation obsessed with how they look to the outside world, is more apt than ever. We wanted to look at the shadows that lie beneath everyone’s lives.
Radio is a story told from a student perspective – Do you think its themes will resonate with a wider audience?
Archie Of course! A lot of the play is about intergenerational conflict; the radio excerpts are almost always the voice of an older person giving their opinion on students. We like to think it’s not just a window into a modern day student house, but also a snapshot of the tensions between this generation and those that have come before it. It has been fascinating discussing the play with people of different age groups after the performance, because the morality in the play in particular does seem to provoke very different reactions from people of different ages. I should think it would be interesting for older people to see what young people think they think, as well as just the opinions of young people themselves.
Was it a challenge for the actors to manage and make natural the shifts in tone a black comedy like this demands?
Archie There is no doubt that halfway through the play there is a shift from light-hearted student humour to something far more serious and sinister. To manage some of the very difficult issues that we touch upon requires a great degree of sensitivity and flexibility, but they seem to be handling it well! Part of that comes from the fact that the process behind this show was a very collaborative one. Many of the lines belong to the actors, born out of the rehearsal room, and so they all seem to own their parts in a way that is quite unusual.
Obviously a focal point of Radio is, well, the radio! In a story you’ve stressed is very much about modern life, was it a deliberate choice to centre the story around a somewhat dated technology rather than something more up to date?
Archie Yes, it was a deliberate move. The radio was an original harbinger of change in the technological revolution, but it’s also in some ways a relic. It therefore seemed appropriate to have a radio – as opposed to, say, an Amazon Alexa – as the voice of the older generation criticising modern day young people. It also makes it eerier, because it’s something that never seems a completely natural part of its surroundings.
Radio is an ambitious production, performing in Somerset and London as well as here at the Fringe – What have been the challenges of organising something on this scale?
Emma We actually might be taking it to Oxford and Manchester too, depending on our reviews! The biggest challenge with anything like this is trying to raise the funds, of course; the cost of accommodation alone for a 10-strong cast and crew for 3 weeks of the Fringe is pretty hefty. We were extremely lucky to be given very generous support from OUDS, Thelma Holt Ltd, numerous Oxford colleges and from the Vice Chancellor of the university, without which the tour wouldn’t have been possible. Of course, it can also be a challenge to make sure every performance is as good as the last, but I think the fact that we get big laughs every evening spurs the cast on. Oh, and the endless health and safety forms are a nightmare.
Any profits the production makes are going to Stem4, a mental health charity – Can you tell us a bit about what they do and why you chose to support them?
Emma Stem4 are a truly exceptional charity who focus on early identification and intervention with teenagers. They support not only sufferers themselves but also their families and local communities. One in three students at Oxford use university mental health services on a regular basis, and there are a series of indicators throughout the play that the characters are struggling to cope with the pressures of early adulthood, so it seemed like an appropriate charity for us to support.
Finally: If the radio was to reveal something about you, what would it be?
Archie Fortunately for me, I didn’t live near any fields of wheat or angry farmers growing up, so I have nothing that damaging to be revealed. But, I must say I’m very glad that it isn’t in my kitchen…