DARK RADIO

Te Auaha, Tapere Nui, 65 Dixon Street, Te Aro, Wellington

17/02/2023 - 19/02/2023

Allen Hall Theatre, University of Otago, Dunedin

17/03/2023 - 19/03/2023

NZ Fringe Festival 2023

Dunedin Fringe Festival 2023

Production Details


Director & Light and Set Designer: Marty Roberts
Sound Designer: Stephen Stedman

Presented by AFTERBURNER


Best of Fringe award winners afterburner (Dark Matter) are back with a new theatre of atmospheres experience.

Number stations were used during the cold war between the USA and the Soviet Union to transmit information across state lines and across the world. Often made up of a random series of words, song or numbers, the stations existed between the frequencies on the radio dial.

This installation is a homage to those paranoid times when spies, nuclear codes and annihilation were kept at bay by those endless streams of radio noise.

Dark Radio will take you on a ride to the strange world that exists between the dials to encounter a sonic and visual haze of information and field agents. Will you be turned? Will you know what to do when you have been compromised?

This is an immersive experience with a strictly limited capacity so book now to guarantee your place.

Te Auaha – Tapere Nui, Level 1, 65 Dixon Street, Te Aro
Friday 17 – Saturday 19 February 2023
9pm
BOOK

Content forecast: War

Dunedin Fringe Festival 2023

Allen Hall Theatre

17, 18, 19 March at 6.30pm

Also 18 March at 4pm

BOOK TICKETS  $10 – $20


CAST
Richard Huber
Sarah and Blaise Barham


Physical , Theatre , Performance installation ,


50 mins

Playful Pastiche on Mass-Paranoia in Spy-Thriller

Review by Andrew McKenzie 18th Mar 2023

The programme photo has a smiling young boy with Brylcreemed hair and a buttoned-up collar, holding a transistor radio. He looks straight out of the 1950s or 60s, and is probably American or British, but he could equally be from New Zealand (or Russia, or Timbuktu). We’re in the Cold War era: an era of shiny surfaces and bright naivety concealing paranoia, spies, codes, and the threat of nuclear annihilation. This show explores and plays with the languages of transmissions and frequencies, spies, surfaces, tensions, and codes. What is meaningful, and what is noise? Could our lives depend on someone knowing the difference? In an RNZ interview, director Marty Roberts described his childhood hobby of listening in on radio tower frequencies and trying to crack the codes; this production captures that playful, wide-eared world of Cold War mystery and dark intrigue, as experienced by a kid. 

Upon entering the theatre space, the audience are greeted with a ‘radio tower/station’ in the middle of a dark room, where an unnamed, blindfolded, ‘operator’ (played with choreographed precision by Richard Huber) sits at a radio desk behind gauze sheets. He performs stylized gestures that may or may not mean something: some of them could be tapping out morse code; others look like he’s checking a lightbulb. It’s our first ‘code’ to crack. There are further pieces of set in the space: a park bench, a coat hanger, and a small table – and there are various props. There are no seats: the audience are free to roam the room as fancy takes them. Some of us sit down on the covered bleachers; most of us stand around the edges, waiting, not sure what to do. A soundscape (designed by Stephen Stedman) made of static, blips, wavelengths, repetitive beeps, and other unnamed technical elements cranks out of the speakers: it creates a wall of noise that could be ominous… or possibly ironic? As it continues to ebb and flow, there seems to be a ‘tune’ or logic to the bleeps, but perhaps I was just imagining it. 

The set elements are elegant and simple, lit dimly and with taste to evoke mystery and perhaps suspense. What scenes will play out here, we wonder? Soon, we realise a number of actors are circulating amongst us in the shadows and the scenes have already started: they’re wearing period costumes like out of a noir movie, and move in a slow, heightened fashion. They sidle up to various audience members and whisper clandestine, mysterious messages. Some audience members listen and remain still, but others suddenly ‘activate’ and begin performing tasks. Are they audience plants (‘agents’), or are they following an instruction that piqued their interest? Or are they just acting randomly? We are placed within a web of uncertainty and dislocation, that we ourselves help create and perpetuate. The lights shift with subtle modulations, accentuating the sense of instability. We all get to be part of the adventure; we’re coerced into being part of a playful mass-paranoia, evoking the spy tropes of popular culture. Clues are disseminated: some possibly meaningful; others probably red herrings. The blindfolded operator in the station feeds out more information and/or nonsense, including dossiers and, at one point, playing a game of rock-paper-scissors with an audience member. It is not possible to catch everything that is going on in the room; we are limited to our own various perspectives. Audience members and actors dip in and out of the shadows, performing small tasks, exploring elements of the set and props. A small team of audience forms, pooling resources and clues to try and crack the code, in the manner of an escape room. Others watch them. Still others seem to be creating their own show, their own meanings. People are animated and engaged; others are bewildered. I try picking up a suitcase and placing it in front of a stranger in a meaningful, suggestive manner, hoping they’ll do something with it. They ignore it. Did I just blow my cover?

Whatever the ambiguities of the message may be, a careful and considered team has orchestrated the elements of this show. The design, space, props, costumes, clues, and performances are controlled, deliberate, and skilfully assembled. For fear of spoiling, I won’t describe what happens after the first few moments, or what the punchline of the show was, but suffice to say that once our audience ‘got going’ with the mystery and the code-cracking, the room hummed with activity, exploration, and discoveries. A sense of irony and the pastiche looms large in this production, and I felt welcomed to play in the playground they provided. On the way out, audience members around me seemed animated and bright. Several were excitedly discussing what the message meant. Possibly, other audience members ahead of me were bemused or confused? I’d be intrigued to visit the show again, to see how a different group responds and plays in the space. And perhaps come dressed in my spy coat next time. 

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Offers a safe space to experience paranoia and contemplate how it erupts and spreads in our world

Review by John Smythe 18th Feb 2023

This immersive experience is perfect Fringe fare. Recalling the cold war between the USA and Soviet Union, it is billed as “a homage to those paranoid times when spies, nuclear codes and annihilation were kept at bay by those endless streams of radio noise” created by Number stations.

“Number stations,” the programme tells us, “were used … to transmit information across state lines and across the world. Often made up of a random series of words, song or numbers, the stations existed between the frequencies on the radio dial.”

Sound Designer Stephen Stedman captures the concept superbly with the incessant jumble of noise that invades the Te Auaha Tapere Nui space – which has been completely transformed within 20 minutes of its sister show from Dunedin, Wonderful, ending. What’s more, the Wonderful writer/director and actors are physically present in the interactive installation.

While objectively very different in style and content, both shows offer mysteries to solve. The publicity image for Dark Radio, of a fascinated boy tuning in between frequencies while imagining what secrets are embedded in the noise, reminds us of how fertile young imaginations can be. And this is what we’re asked to bring.

Speaking of what to bring, the plan was to bring props up Te Waipounamu and across Cook Strait by car but a last-minute storm-related ferry cancellation put paid to that. Obliged to return to Dunedin (no chance of rebooking a car to get here in time), Director Marty Roberts (afterburner) had to pay heaps for airfares and appeal to Wellington colleagues for help with certain items. They rallied and he happily received what was needed – and some elements may not be exactly what was planned. Another example of the manaakitanga that has prevailed around Aotearoa in recent times.

When we enter the space, Marty’s Light and Set Design privileges a shrouded centrepiece in which a blindfolded man (Richard Huber) sits before an entanglement of dial, knobs, levers, tubes and wires, typing, swiping, pulling at levers in a mesmerised state of fear. I perceive him as the personification of paranoia – and salute him for his unswerving dedication to the futile task.

As our eyes adjust to our dim surroundings we see a park bench, a hatstand bearing 1960s coats and hats, abandoned suitcases, a table bearing a folded 1968 Evening Post and black Bakelite telephone … Those who lift the receiver and listen will hear messages to make them alert, nervous and suspicious. Imperceptible the room becomes immersed in playtime paranoia.

Everyone’s experience will be different depending on what you see and do, and in what order. You may see the couple (Sarah and Blaise Barham) attempting to be clandestine as they happen to share the park bench. If you investigate the contents of the newspapers and suitcases, you may find suspicious items. And if you get together with others to compare notes, some sense of coherence may emerge – or not.

An abandoned paperback copy of The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes suggests the sort of game we are playing – and some, on opening night, are obsessively into it (not unlike a Pokémon GO event). I catch sight of Martyn and a colleague (Jordan Wichman?) observing from on high in the control room, looking enigmatic but smiling on the inside, I feel.

“Will you be turned?” the publicity asks. “Will you know what to do when you have been compromised?” Who knows? All I can add is that on the bus ride home, quite a few people look very suspicious. And I guess we do too. Paranoia is contagious.

Dark Radio offers a safe space to experience paranoia and contemplate how it erupts and spreads in our world.

(Paranoia = delusions of grandeur and persecution.) Footnote: I had hoped for some echo of the infamous Bill Sutch / Dimiti Razgovorov incident but realise that was in 1974, so later than the time this captures.

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