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Radio review at Arcola Theatre, London – ‘a gripping performance by Adam Gillen’

Adam Gillen’s in Radio at Arcola Theatre, London. Photo: Helen Maybanks
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Charting a course between the philosophical and the pointedly political, Al Smith’s Radio is a heartfelt monologue about the paradoxical fragility and resilience of the American dream. Remounted to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, the show follows innocent idealist Charlie, born in 1950 at the geographical centre of the US, whose childhood obsession with space travel both sustains and torments him during and after the Vietnam War.

Setting a deliberate, unhurried pace, director Josh Roche handles the rich, rambling intricacy of Smith’s text with finesse, letting each moment of humour, warmth, or melancholy resonate like an echo on the airwaves.

Adam Gillen is immediately relatable as the earnest but awkward Charlie, who, Forrest Gump-like, finds his life intersecting with 20th-century history. Though his Kansas accent drifts a little too close to Kermit the Frog at times, he brings a riveting, restless energy to the role, telling his tale with a wonderful balance of vulnerability and manic enthusiasm, spinning the yarn with a playful twinkle in his eye that glazes over, now and then, into a hollow thousand-yard stare.

The production has a straightforward, stripped-back design by Sophie Thomas, a weave of wires suspended across the otherwise unadorned space like the innards of a disassembled appliance. As Charlie paces, struggling to encompass his wonder at a galaxy of unreachable potential, Peter Small’s unfussy lighting serves as a counterpoint, periodically narrowing the focus back down to a single spot of peaceful, silvery lunar light.

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Adam Gillen’s gripping performance lends gravity to a moving monologue of space flight and lost innocence