Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Wireless Theatre bring their suite of 8 original radio dramas, about 8 couples who change the way we live today, to the final week of the Fringe at the Pleasance Dome. The plays are being recorded live, and the actors bring the story to you whilst adding the sound effects and musical accompaniments that we take for granted when listening in the comfort of our homes. Each day they perform a different play, and that recording can then be downloaded from their website. Today’s performance “He Became His Own Man” was written by Faye Hughes and dramatises the true story of Laura and Michael Dillon.
A pianist plays with dramatic flourish as our first characters step up to the microphone. We quickly learn that the small female is Laura as she begins to relate her story of being a man trapped in a woman’s body. She’s a frustrated youth and beside her is her alter ego, Michael. She tries relentlessly to hide the signs that she is female, but it’s not until she leaves her small village for Oxford University that she can explore why she is not like other girls.
This comes about by meeting a fellow sufferer who understands the physical and sexual intricacies of her situation. Laura, now existing mainly as Michael, discovers a pioneering doctor who (reluctantly) gives him hormone tablets, and it’s from this post Second World War point that Michael’s story becomes the foundation for gender reassignment. The scene is set for 5 microphones, with two tall tables that are set with crockery and water. There is a pianist and sound engineer stage right. The stocking clad five piece ensemble adapt to several roles, moving silently to the mic or back of the stage. As each character enters, it matters not that they are not in costume or playing on a set, as you see the actors transform into their roles. Be it a regional accent, age or physical demeanour, they play with conviction and this is the magic of radio theatre.
A performance like this is a radio buff’s delight and it’s also a fascinating process to watch. One can see the cast clinking and stirring tea cups for the right amount of time, just to create the exact atmosphere of a café or bar. They easily slip from being a character into becoming one of the foley team, and their non -verbal communication skills are astounding, showing flawless team work. I would have liked to have heard more incidental music from the pianist and experienced less pre-recorded sound – it’s always fun to see the ingenious ways that sound effects can be recreated – and perhaps that happens in other performances.
The play itself is performed with flashbacks as Michael shares his story with a transgender male who is about to embark on the same long road to hormonal change. The piece moves at a steady pace, and after a point you could also predict which actor was about to take the floor. An added treat is that you are encouraged on arrival to respond freely to what you hear, with the full knowledge that your laughter or gasps will be included in the recorded performance. They also recommend that you close your eyes and allow your imagination to establish your own personal backdrops. It’s a double treat of a moving piece of drama and the captivating art form that the radio play is.