Adam Gillen will be best known to viewers up and down the country as sweet but intellectually challenged Liam in the hit ITV sitcom Benidorm, but Adam also has a prolific stage career, attracting critical acclaim last year when he starred alongside Orlando Bloom and Sophie Cookson in Tracey Letts’ Killer Joe.

His latest role couldn’t be more different, playing the only character in Al Smith’s Radio, currently at the Arcola Theatre.  Smith first penned the play for Kandinsky to perform at The Edinburgh Fringe back in 2006, and it now comes to London in a co-production with Audible, the world’s leading provider and producer of spoken word entertainment.

“It’s all about a young man who has returned from the Vietnam war and is telling somebody the story of his life and his family’s history,” says Adam, “It’s a potted history of the extraordinary things that the Fairbank family found themselves in the middle of, somehow Forest Gump like they found themselves at the centre of historical events, as many families tend to think they are.”

Adam has fallen in love with the character he plays, “I love his optimism and positivity, he’s like a childlike beacon of hope considering he’s been through trauma in his life.” The character has aspirations to become an astronaut which forms much of the central premise of Radio, “he’s been handed this identity of a dreamer from his father and takes that on board. I like his outlook on life and his aspirational anything is possible spirit, that’s what I’ll take away from this.”

he makes science somehow about love and art, and he makes two worlds collide

Writer, Al Smith has been heavily involved in this production, and Adam says that he was keen to take on new ideas in the rehearsal room, “I love his writing and I love saying it. It can be quite challenging to find and click in to the the rhythm of it, but when you do it’s so satisfying and I’m aware that’s my challenge as an actor, not his as a writer.”

“He manages to make incredibly complex concepts come alive, he makes science somehow about love and art, and he makes two worlds collide, particularly in this piece, in a way I haven’t seen done before, it’s exceptionally beautiful, he has a turn of phrase that makes your ears prick up.”

For Adam, Radio is also a chance to work with Josh Roche again, with whom he previously worked on Kenny Emson’s Plastic, “Josh is wicked, there’s no ego with Al or Josh it’s all about the work, and making something for people not themselves. Josh is a very unselfish director and very patient.”

it’s an intimate experience and every person feels like they’ve had an individual experience with this storyteller

Adam is alone on stage throughout the hour and twenty minute performance, “I’ve really enjoyed the experience of making it like you’re just talking to people around the fire, it’s an intimate experience and every person feels like they’ve had an individual experience with this storyteller. It’s been very rewarding, and a great feeling when you get it right, but of course when you get it wrong it can feel extremely lonely because you are on your own.”

Adam Gillen Charlie Fairbanks. Credit Helen Maybanks
Adam Gillen Charlie Fairbanks. Credit Helen Maybanks

The only reprieve for Adam on stage come from the brief moments when a cassette player is used to play scenes from American history, “That was Josh’s idea to add in things like the sound effects of Sputnik to illustrate certain points, and because the character receives this information through the Radio, it’s his first experience of these major global events, so it’s nice to hear those original recordings, and hopefully that makes the audience feel closer to the character because we are all hearing them together.”

With audio playing such an important role in this play, it seems the ideal fit for Audible’s growing interest in theatre, having co-produced Radio, they will later this year release a studio recording of the performance.

“I knew right from the start it was a co-production,” says Adam, “It’s a wonderful company, the building of interest in podcasting and audible drama is sort of going back to basics, and a simpler time of how drama is received.  That intimate experience is what people are searching for.”

“There’s been years where theatre has been all about the whizz-bang-wallop, and event theatre which can be an extraordinary experience, but people are looking now for a closer relationship with the story teller.”

I think when theatre makers take in to account their shows might one day be told to only one person, it could make them fine tune the storytelling and the intention

Adam has done audio drama before, but he says doing it on his own different, “we recorded it in the first week, it was a very strange experience just talking into one single microphone, in my head I was still moving about the stage, but it was like telling it to a single person and I was visualising a face at the end of the microphone.”

Adam thinks that the releasing of a studio recording by Audible can only be a good thing for theatre, “I think when theatre makers take in to account their shows might one day be told to only one person, it could make them fine tune the storytelling and the intention, making it less about the stage tricks, and more about clear, concise, engaging and intimate storytelling, which theatre at its best should be.”

Radio starring Adam Gillen is at The Arcola Theatre until 13th July, it will be released by Audible later this year.

Greg is an award-winning writer with a huge passion for theatre. He has appeared on stage, as well as having directed several plays in his native Scotland. Greg is the founder and editor of Theatre Weekly

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