Radio Gothic: step in to a Radio Play performed live in front of the audience

Dark Mofo festival kicks off in a very dark way

Art Review from Australia. Published by Rebecca Gabrielle Cannon on Friday 09 June 2017.

Radio Gothic: step in to a Radio Play performed live in front of the audience image Radio Gothic: step in to a Radio Play performed live in front of the audience image Radio Gothic: step in to a Radio Play performed live in front of the audience image

Radio plays - live performances over radio - may not be as popular as they once were, but the format remains as relevant as ever, particularly as a vehicle for demonstrating the persuasive power of sound design. "Radio Gothic", currently showing at the Dark Mofo festival in Tasmania, showcases this format live in front of a theatre audience. The results are captivating and chilling.

“Radio Gothic” is the name of both the performances showing currently at Dark Mofo, as well as the collective who perform them. The 2017 Dark Mofo festival is showcasing Episode 2 and 3 – which follows on from Episode 1 shown at last year’s festival. Each work features sound elements created live during the performance, and the episodes are part of an anthology series rather than a serialised narrative, so you don’t need to see them all or in order.

Without plot spoiling – the narrative of “Episode 2 – The Hanniford Tapes” delved right in to some very dark and gruesome ideas – far from the typical family dramas you’re going to encounter on televised soap operas. This made me wonder, were radio plays always this dark? Before censorship and family-guide ratings standardized policies of normalcy that would shape the nuclear family?

It was a fulfilling kickoff to what promises to be a satisfyingly disturbing Dark Mofo festival.

The four performers of the Radio Gothic collective perform live on stage in the beautiful ‘Peacock Theatre’ (a historic location itself, replete with early 20th century leather/wood theatre seating).

They combine background sound design with the live performance of script acting and sound effects. Further rework through sampling, effects and loop playback further explores the fluidity of live, narrative audio-based performance, all in front of the audience who are then gifted the opportunity to deconstruct the world evoked through sound, and the fabric of the radio-play’s performance environment that creates it.

The play itself delights in this folly – as they call it – encompassing the power of sound in to the storyline as much as the performance, whilst embracing the freedoms gifted by a radio play, allowing actors to play more than one character, sound effects of a particular character to be performed separately to their voice, and live audio engineering to massage and control the focal point of the radio play itself away from the visual focus on stage – and then back the other way using stage-based controls such as lighting and movement to move the audience back to a visually dominant experience again.

Sound design is often an unsung hero – particularly in film. Anyone who has watched a movie with the sound turned off to study the comparative influence the sound has will be familiar with this. Seeing the sound design performed live though, highlights it’s contribution to the overall effect, particularly in the radio play format where the visual acting of the narrative is absent or deconstructed.

In the performance we saw, the audio-mix levels of different elements of the performance seemed a little incongruous in a theatre at first – however by closing my eyes to remove any preconceptions about audio levels which I’m conditioned to expect are appropriate for a theatre performance – I was then able to enjoy dynamic depths between foreground and background psychological experiences, which emerged via the sound mix only. This was an incredible way to experience the power that audio design can have to take you on its own journey.

My only suggestion for improvement was that the acting style be a little more dynamic, as it felt a little predictable at times. Perhaps this too is a side effect of the radio play format itself though, with actor’s body’s constrained to a degree by their distance from the microphone.

In no other live performance have I ever felt so strongly caught within the fabrics of the performance media and their created worlds. With ‘Radio Gothic’ the audience watches a theatre show of a performance of a sound play in an endless feedback loop of construction and deconstruction. Radio Gothic provides a truly unique theatre and sound performance experience.

About the Radio Gothic Collective

The Radio Gothic collective consists of Heath Brown, Briony Kidd, Carrie Mclean and Alison Mann.

These four combine their varied skills across theatre and film to create radio plays featuring foley and sampling techniques.

Radio Gothic is currently playing as part of MONA’s Dark Mofo festival in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.