The concept behind Sunscreen Productions’ Radio is pretty familiar: a group of flatmates at the end of their university careers grapple with past tensions and future anxieties while trying to get their deposit back. Think Ella Hickson’s Boys. The formula is mixed up somewhat by the introduction of a seemingly sentient radio – it starts turning itself on, playing suspiciously relevant music and responding to what the characters are saying, escalating the simmering drama of the play. It’s a clever twist on what could be a clichéd setup. Unfortunately, too much of the rest of the production holds back a lot of what’s best about this show.
an authentic, end-of-university mood
Archie Thomson’s script has personality and humour, and even though not every joke lands, they come at a sufficient pace to keep the play amusing and engaging. However, the plot has very little forward momentum. Though the script bounces from subplot to subplot with energy, within the discrete interactions things get bogged down and start feeling circular. The individual scenes (such as they are – the play is in real time without blackouts) don’t have enough shape or flow to keep the characters’ increasingly strained relationships moving believably.
On top of this, Radio does an awkward job of dealing with the issues it contends with. For example, during a spat midway through the play, one character goes off on one about ‘political correctness’. He intones that no-one can say what they mean anymore, and throws the term ‘safe space’ in there for good measure. It doesn’t feel like real young people talking about the issues they care about in a personal way, more like the writer took buzzwords and talking points commonly used in colloquial political conversation and jammed them into the script. This isn’t a big problem when the issue is political correctness or class privilege, but the issues at the end of the play become noticeably darker, and the ham-fisted theming undermines them to a large degree.
The acting was the highlight of the production, all six actors turning in largely credible performances. The characters are each believably portrayed as a familiar stereotype of uni student life, and it works well here. Occasionally, however, some of the actors fell back on these stereotypes rather than exploring more distinct personalities, which robbed the production of some depth. This was a trap avoided only by Joe Perden who, as the northern wine-loving Paul, found the complexity in his character and displayed excellent stage presence.
Radio has a lot of things going for it: an intriguing premise, a solid group of actors, and an authentic, end-of-university mood. The script is just a little too stagnant and a little too clichéd to amplify them.