Croydonites Festival 2018 review: Gill Manly’s Radio Apocalypse

By - Tuesday 1st May, 2018

Not-so-easy listening at this, the first play of the 2018 Croydonites Festival

Photo by Fluid4Sight, used with permission.

On the face of it, it didn’t bode well that Radio Apocalypse – a show based on the end of the world being ushered in by a Trump presidency – opened on the night that leaders of South and North Korea met for the first time in a decade and committed to denuclearisation; an act (or ‘deal’ to use Trumpian parlance) that has ostensibly been engineered by the USA’s Commander-in-Chief.

Of course, it’s a little unfair to judge a play that has been weeks in the making on the events of the day, but even within a more generous temporal lens, I went in unconvinced about the play’s central conceit: that a Trump presidency is one in which the world is more dangerous, and it is only a matter of time until nuclear war is initiated by the US.

It’s probably a bit too much to expect the average person to have a basic grasp of neoconservatism, Levantine politics and US foreign policy beyond the unsophisticated clickbait ‘hot takes’ fed to them by underwaged new-media neophytes. However, for anyone who is prepared to look deeper than their Facebook feed, Trump is patently not the architect of world destruction. Trumpian doctrine is distinctly non-interventionist to the point of isolationist; ‘regime change’ is as far away from his mind as ‘humility’, and if you understand that diplomacy is conducted by grown-ups on private lines and not what you read on Twitter, you’ll recognise that both of his missile strikes to date have been non-lethal, tactical ‘sabre rattling’ precisely to dissuade acts of aggression from rogue states and their proxies.

Needless to say, with Trump in power, I’ve never felt safer

Compare that with Bush, whose actions led to half a million deaths in an illegal invasion; Obama, who dropped an average of eight bombs per day during his presidency, and a potential Hillary Clinton administration which, based on her ruinous actions in Libya, would have almost certainly seen us engage in hostile action against Russia, North Korea and the usual bad actors in the Middle East. Needless to say, I’ve never felt safer.

That said, if you’re game enough to leave your critical-thinking faculties at home and accept the premise of Radio Apocalypse, then it was an absolute masterclass.

Across an engaging and increasingly tense ninety minutes, local jazz musician extraordinaire Gill Manly brought us into the world of ‘The Edie Rock Show’, hosted by an evening drive-time DJ whose Wogan-esque chit-chat and inoffensive muzak take a turn for the worse as the show is interrupted by news of the US launching nuclear missiles against Russia and North Korea.

A sublime set-up led you to believe you were in a claustrophobic radio station bunker

The setup was sublime. With the use of a radio sound desk, a projector and terrific music samples, Manly absolutely made you believe that you were down in the claustrophobic bunker of a Croydon Radio studio. In between her laconic vaping and requests for callers who “might want to rant about the orange goblin” or debate “which is the best dog?”, there were adverts from Smoothbean and The Ludoquist that elicited titters of recognition from the audience.

Complementing Manly’s character was a host of pre-recorded audio samples of callers,  voiced by local personalities including Katie Rose (who is putting on a very timely Croydon Peace Festival soon), and there was even an extended interview with Vanessa Potter, a Crystal Palace writer whose new book Patient H69 tells the story of how she woke up blind one day and could only see the colours red and blue if she said them.

Halfway through, however, the tone changes. Excerpts from Sky News cut through the easy listening and callers start to explain to Edie what’s happening outside of her studio. The bombs hit across the world, and it’s here that the audience is then taken on a nightmarish tour de force.

A guttural cry rings out before Manly accepts her impending death

With a guttural, back-arching cry, Edie realises that she is now all alone and that there are no more listeners out there. She breaks into a slow jazz lamentation that strikes to the very bone (and highlights what a precious vocal talent Manly is) before she lets out a wail, “have I lived a good life?”, and accepts her impending demise. The projector screen cuts from the lurid neon ‘On Air’ that had been above her for the duration of the show to become an iconic montage of Edie’s life: school years, teen years in the ’60s, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the death of Princess Diana.

In the final part of the play, Manly donned a Greek mask and we were treated to a mute interpretative dance to Barber’s Adagio For Strings as pictures of Earth’s destruction played out on the screen. It was both touching and disconcerting in equal measure.

Let it be said: I am a Gill Manly convert. She can sing, dance, produce and play with the best of ‘em, and Radio Apocalypse was a rewarding night out for those who want theatre which entertains and provokes thought.

This was the first show in the 2018 Croydonites Festival line-up. If they are all as good as Radio Apocalypse, then Croydon’s theatregoers are in for a treat this year.

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He owns a lead generation company. He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training and a Linkedin lead generation service. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

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