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Live Review: Radio Gothic (Dark Mofo)

13 June 2017 | 6:50 pm | Rhys Anderson

"The foley work is incredible, using old and new techniques... the cast produce a world that feels full of life and history."

Episode 2: The Hanniford Tapes and Episode 3: The Illustrated Girl

These shows may go under the radar for the second year lost within the sheer volume of events at Dark Mofo. If you get the chance, this is one of the most interesting events of the lot – a triumph of writing and performance that is sure to capture your imagination.

The stage is simple and exposed, sound designer Heath Brown sits around a desk of gadgets, performing most of the vocal effects and music underscores live. Around three other mics, lit usually by an individual spotlight, Craig Irons, Katie Robertson and Carrie McLean stand. The actors do not face each other, instead bringing all their focus to the intonation and character of their voices. The performances are outstanding, a tight cast brilliantly directed by Briony Kidd.

There are some doors you don’t ever want to open. Some corners of the room better left unobserved. The Tasmanian four-person theatre and radio collective known as Radio Gothic turn your gaze to these corners, creak open these doors and makes you, as their audience, look. It is part radio show, part performance theatre. Stories are laden with suspense and riddled with the earliest of horror themes and mysticisms – exploring what goes bump in the night down on the island of Tasmania.

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Following on from last year’s successful Episode 1, each episode works as a stand-alone and can be viewed as such. The narratives are not serialised.

In Episode 2 we watch a psychiatrist (Carrie McLean) begin to obsess over the murder committed by her client (Katie Roberston) in a compelling narrative that finds the corners on the edges of sanity and tugs at them. The sound design is impeccable at setting the scene whether inside a dilapidated house or a sterile psychiatrist’s office, every action of the performers up front (McLean, Robertson) mimicked with precision timing into the collection of microphones scattered around the room by sound creators Heath Brown and Craig Irons.

Irons, not leaving his table of bits and bobs of foley effects does exemplary as a supporting actor. His relaxed performance as the husband of the therapist offers excellent insight into life for McLean’s therapist before the case that has become her obsession. Playing against her drive and focus, the counterbalance of the supportive and conflict-avoiding husband helps give - for a show that only runs 45 minutes - incredible depth to McLean’s character. The Hanniford tales, written by Carrie McLean, is a dark and harrowing performance that is not recommended for young audiences.

Episode 3 begins at the hangover point of the next morning. A woman (Katie Robertson) wakes up with very little memory of the previous night’s events. What she does have is a sinister tattoo on her hand.

She begins a journey to discover who put it there and why.

The foley work is incredible, using old and new techniques (Craig Irons talks through a roll of tape to give the impression he’s in another room, which then runs through a series electronic and analogue processors) the cast produce a world that feels full of life and history. A present-day tale against the backdrop of Hobart’s dark colonial past. 

The story itself presents a lot of gaps that have may have been missed on purpose but weakens the overall story, and characters are sometimes introduced and abruptly removed in what feels like a premature rush to progress the story and keep to time.

The journey of Robertson’s character as she seeks to find answers for her mysterious tattoo uncovers more questions than answers, a series of events that bring opportunities, unease and dark humour.

In Episode 3 McLean shines in her portrayal of 70-year-old tattoo artist, Pam. The Illustrated Girl delivers far more humour than previous stories but the dark themes of loss, obsession and death remain.

Radio Gothic plays at Peacock Theatre 7 - 11 Jun, Episode 2 at 8pm and Episode 3 at 9pm.