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REVIEW: Laika: A Staged Radio Play

Is there anything more nostalgic than good old-fashioned radio? It conjures up memories of a bygone era – of innocence and insular worlds, unscathed by globalisation. An era before the space race – when people eagerly tuned in to the wireless for all of their news – fake or not.

Second Chance Theatre bring all the highs and lows of the Soviet Union’s space program to life using the staged radio play as its medium. Radio plays are seen as a bit antiquated now, they have been surpassed by superior technology that garnered far better press and reputations (I’m looking at you television!) It is a rather fitting medium to use for a story about Russia’s space program – a program that achieved so many firsts and utilised ground-breaking technology and wonderful minds, yet have been all but forgotten, left in the wake of ‘One small step for man…’ and all that jazz.

Laika: A Staged Radio Play is the brainchild of writer/director Scott McArdle – a Blue Room Theatre stalwart – and is meticulously researched. McArdle’s deft hand takes five friends sheltering from a storm in a creepy abandoned building and creates a clever and engaging piece that scrutinises the Soviet Union’s space program. The script appears simple and slightly mocking at first, but McArdle’s masterful writing immerses you into the world of the final frontier. The group stumble upon an old radio set up for broadcasting – complete with sound boards and various other tools for the live foley. Conveniently, there are also five scripts and the storm isn’t about to let up any time soon!

As each of the friends pick their characters – with a few jokes thrown in, Arielle Gray defends her role as the sixty year old man, Sergei Korolev, Andrew David attempts a Russian accent and is playfully relegated to stick to the sound – the mood shifts and mid-century Russia is brought to life. Taryn Ryan reads Natalya Volkov, a highly intelligent young astrophysicist. The play starts on a dark note, Volkov and her colleague, Vasily Mishin (Daniel Buckle) are working on a launch that sees Laika, the first dog in space. As things start to go wrong, Korolev demands that they mute the feed, so as to not hear the dying breaths of the dog. This is Volkov’s first foray into the corruption of the program.

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Image: David Cox Media

The jokes and shtick wear off as the action heats up. Volkov is a wonderfully rich character. Ryan plays her with poise and dignity – her voice and tone strike the perfect balance between gravitas and vulnerability. She is strong and any vulnerability is only expressed when alone or with the hotshot cosmonaut – Yuri Gagarin (St John Cowcher.) Gagarin is brash and showy, he embodies the Americana that the Russians tried so desperately to oppose and stands in contrast to Mishin, who is seen as more of a thinker. Yet, it is with Gagarin that Volkov reveals her most poetic thoughts. She desires to escape the confines of her disabled body, her female form, her earthly grounded being and jettison out to see the stunning thin blue line that rings the earth. Ryan deserves special mention for her absolute embodiment of Volkov. She speaks her role with reverence and a slight melancholy. As her character becomes more involved, so too does Ryan. She captures the hopes and dreams of an intelligent bright spark and does so with aplomb.

There are some liberties taken with history here – Gagarin passed away in a different manner than depicted, and there is an implication that the first Sputnik missions were secretly manned and then covered up. In my opinion, this takes a speculative work from pedestrian to extraordinary. The corruption and need to be the best (literally on top of the world) is manifested in Gray’s Korolev by a hard line and grim determined jaw. At times, it seems Volkov is the only sane person in an ambitious and morally defunct team. When Mishin fails to speak out against the problems, Volkov spirals into despair and abject hopelessness. The concept of manipulating history to fit an agenda is deep – it exposes the role of the media and how the story is spun. If history is written by the victors, who’s to say that this didn’t happen?

WHEN: 12th – 30th September 2017 | 7:00pm

WHERE: The Blue Room Theatre | Northbridge

INFO: Tickets $18 – $28 | Duration 70 minutes | Lockout | Suitable 15+

LINK: http://blueroom.org.au/events/laika-a-staged-radio-play/

 

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