Tag Archives: Ella Wahlström


Arcola Theatre



Arcola Theatre

Reviewed – 24th June 2019



“a performance that convincingly and loyally wrings the emotion from the text”


“Maybe you wanna see an effect? A piece of magic?” Charlie Fairbanks (Adam Gillen) asks us, explaining that magicians prefer to use the term ‘effect’ rather than ‘trick’. What they create are illusions by taking advantage of how we perceive and process information. A dove fluttering from a hat is used to draw an audience’s attention away from the actual trick. Just as some believe the moon landing was a trick (fake news half a century before the phrase was coined) by the American Government to distract us from Vietnam and the Cold War. It is this merging of the global and the personal that informs Al Smith’s writing in “Radio” that enables us to connect instantly to the play.

Smith’s father worked for the US space programme and helped to choose the landing sites on the surface of the moon for Apollo 11. He grew up hearing his stories about that time, and about the highs and lows of that era in the States. By extension, “Radio” is about fathers and sons, pride and protest, love and war; a kind of love-letter to his own father and to a lost era. Alone on the stage, Adam Gillen treats the writing with reverence in a performance that convincingly and loyally wrings the emotion from the text. It is no small challenge to keep an audience clinging to your words (and there’s a fair few of them) for eighty minutes. And Gillen does it with style, honesty and subtlety. Director Josh Roche avoids gimmickry and allows the actor’s storytelling to take centre stage.

Charlie Fairbanks was born at noon, in June of 1950 in Kansas, in the dead centre of the 20th century and in the dead centre of the United States. The trouble is that the centre has a habit of shifting. As does the focus of the story. But that is not a criticism; Gillen’s anecdotal flair adds spontaneity so that the flow of the narrative never ebbs as it meanders and side streams. The strands of his story overlap, like fragments of clarity from a continually spinning radio dial, in a performance that crackles with understated energy.

While chasing his own dreams of becoming an astronaut, Charlie navigates the American Dream and the twists and turns of his changing world – from JFK’s assassination, Vietnam, the cold war and, central to the play, the space race. His is a heartwarming story of reaching for the moon, and of the effects of seeing our world from afar. The real achievement of the moon landing, says Charlie at the close of the monologue, wasn’t that we got there but that, in getting there, we realised the value of all we left behind.

And like the cycle of the moon, we are back at the start – with an echo of Charlie’s opening question. But by now we have the answer. It doesn’t take an illusionist’s trickery to know that we have just seen a piece of magic.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Helen Maybanks



Arcola Theatre until 13th July


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Elephant Steps | ★★★★ | August 2018
Greek | ★★★★ | August 2018
Forgotten | ★★★ | October 2018
Mrs Dalloway | ★★★★ | October 2018
A Hero of our Time | ★★★★★ | November 2018
Stop and Search | ★★ | January 2019
The Daughter-In-Law | ★★★★★ | January 2019
Little Miss Sunshine | ★★★★★ | April 2019
The Glass Menagerie | ★★★★ | May 2019
Riot Act | ★★★★★ | June 2019


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This Restless State – 3 Stars


This Restless State


Reviewed – 16th March 2018


“the tameness of the script fails to relate the depth of distress”


Centred in the present, ‘This Restless State’ steps back to the past and forward to the future to explore the idea of our attachment to and recognition of home, in an intertwining of three singular predicaments. The writer, Danielle Pearson, motivated by the Brexit vote, which fuelled a debate in many minds, aims to question the spirit of national identity and the conflict between political beliefs and personal feelings and how this alters from one generation to another. She also discusses the tensions between freedom and responsibility as we shape the future we want or accept what is happening.

Jesse Fox gives a touchingly honest performance in this one-man feat as he endears the audience with ‘his’ story. Struggling to make sense of the path he is taking in life, he has also to confront his own reaction when he returns to the family home for the last time. He intersperses his account with the narratives of two others – Margot in Berlin, 1989, whose world stops as she learns of the fall of the wall, and Galina in Rome, 2052 – devastated by an Inter-Continental war – preparing to vote in a Europe-wide referendum. He sensitively moves from one character to the other, building a defined quality to each situation.

Director, Jemima James, subtly guides us round the piece as the threads of the stories interlace, while the sound design by Ella Wahlström is strikingly evocative, bathing the stage with language and music. Ben Pacey’s unpretentious set creates a simple, homely atmosphere and his lighting daubs the different eras in their distinctive tones and effectively punctuates the changes of scene. Any moments of drama are created artificially by the expertise of the technical effects.

In making ‘This Restless State’ theatrical conversation or storytelling, our engagement with Margot and Galina, whose lives are portrayed, is not as strong as with Jesse who is recounting his own; the performance, therefore, becomes dynamically unbalanced and, in addition, the thought-provoking topics the play purports to raise are only touched on. The concept of the work is original and the linking elements are apparent but, although each is a poignant comment on the contrariety of our emotions, the tameness of the script fails to relate the depth of distress and it comes across as three wistful, intimate sketches.


Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington 


This Restless State

Ovalhouse until 24th March



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