Director Josh Roche spoke to Emma Clarendon about bringing Al Smith’s Radio to the stage.

Hi Josh, ‘Radio’ sounds like a bit of an intriguing story. For those who don’t know what it is about – could you explain a bit more about the story? Radio is the story of Charlie Fairbanks, a boy born in 1950 who is fed all the optimistic dreams of America. He’s born in Lebanon, Kansas, the geographical dead centre of America. He wants to be a hero, he wants to beat the Reds and, of course, he wants to be an astronaut. This play is the story of what happens next.

What appealed to you about bringing this particular story to the stage?Really it’s because I’ve wanted to make some work about America. I feel like we’re seeing America’s greatest assets pollinate the country’s greatest weaknesses. Faith in enterprise has become faith in wealth, national pride has transformed into xenophobia. RADIO is a beautiful play about the essential DNA of America, the paradox of optimism and delusion that has generated some of America’s extraordinary successes and cataclysmic failures. As Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, Richard Nixon landed in the Whitehouse.

How did you first come across ‘Radio’? I’ve been a fan of Al Smith’s writing for many years, and have been trying to find ways of
working with him. As this year is the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Radio seemed the perfect play at the perfect time.

When creating a concept for the production was there anything in particular about the story that you wanted to really highlight? This is a story about the aspiration of America during the 1950s and 60s. Trying to capture a sense of that aspirational, optimistic culture was important. However our main mission was to give Adam Gillen the space to perform. RADIO is a deeply intimate, personal story about one man’s life and the dreams and realities of it – so a large part of the concept was attempting to facilitate that, even if it included getting out of the way.

How have you found the experience of bringing ‘Radio’ to the stage so far? It’s been fantastic. Adam Gillen is a phenomenal performer, his recent nomination for an Olivier Award alongside Orlando Bloom is just the first sign of an industry that’s waking up to his talent. I can’t wait to see him stick all the various parts together.

What can audiences expect from this production? A deeply moving, personal play about America, performed by an actor with a unique talent. America in the 1950s and 60s contained the genesis of Trump and the genesis of Obama. It’s a time of moon landings and a time of failing foreign wars. Charlie’s story captures both sides of the coin, and shows,
in beautiful detail, a life lived under the shadow of optimism.

By Emma Clarendon

Radio will play at the Arcola Theatre from the 19th June until the 13th July.