‘ATLANTIS’ – (@lantis) – ‘Data Protection’ – with ‘Data Protection’ being the second one-hour, science fiction radio play in a series of seven episodes. These exciting and fun plays, which are suitable for even young teenagers, have been written by accomplished actor, Stephen B. Platt, co-founder of Thought Jar Productions and host of ‘The Cinema Catch-Up Club Podcast’. Recently, Stephen has mainly turned his hand to writing and directing, winning awards on the way.
This series of plays are part of Stephen’s PhD, doctoral thesis research, as he examines ‘Science Fiction in Live Performance’. In 1953, when few people in the UK had even travelled on a domestic plane trip, and sputniks were still some time away, the BBC brought out a radio series by Charles Chilton, called ‘Journey into Space’ which was set only 12 years ahead. This 12 part series – for the ‘wireless’ – soon turned into 72 episodes, and lasted for 5 years. The whole family tuned in. For many of us, this was the first time we had heard the word computer or air-lock door. The magic of radio is that it allows the mind of the listener to go where it wants to, so that a family of five would ‘hear and experience’ 5 different versions of the episode, each to their own. This show introduced actors including David Jacobs who went on to chair one of Britain’s best loved, weekly programmes, ‘Juke Box Jury’ 8 years. Each of the recordings is performed live on stage, for a couple of nights every week at 7.00 pm in the Nexus Theatre, Murdoch University from August 21st to October 4th. Check the nights as they vary slightly. Each episode is then released online in an audio only format.
The scene: a modern day radio studio, with the play being based on an underwater city, about a decade into the future. The set: was designed by John King and assistant Harrison Mitchell: Front of stage are 4 mic-stands, each holding a C40 microphone and windsock. At the rear of the stage to the right, is an effects microphone for ‘human sounds’, whilst on the other side is a complete sound effects desk (Foley artists Andrew David and Cassie Power) with sound recordings by Bradley Clarke. The scientific theme of a colourful benzene ring pattern was carried over the walls, floor mats and sound effects desk. There is a semicircle of chairs around the stage for performers awaiting their lines. Set Assistants are James Jury and Ella Ewart.
Stage management is by Sarah Courtis and her assistant SM Anne-Marie ‘Mia’ Winter. Incidentally, the BBC used the term ‘Floor’ Manager rather than ‘Stage’ manager for all of their TV shows, and I think radio as well (but not sure) – yes, I am a pedant. As the opening original theme tune by Robert Woods plays, a large screen fills the rear wall, displaying the Atlantis water theme and logo, and during the recording (indicated by a large red ‘ON AIR’ sign in the auditorium), a series of fine quality artistic representations of the submarine craft and crew are displayed (Artist Ally Snell, made into AV by Ella Ewart and operated by Harrison Mitchell).
The very good mood lighting was designed by Zenna Newman-Santos. Although this is a radio play, the actors are in costume (Róisín Keiley). Many are in black leotards, but the lead actors have lab coats, or other appropriate clothing.
In the mysterious Ponderlust Laboratories, the newly-appointed Captain Dorothy Goddard (Nicola Brescianini) is talking to part of her team; the crotchety Professor Jules Quine (Murray Jackson), who, as his surname suggests is a brilliant logician and scientist. Then there is Dr Mary Pote (Tegan Mulvany) the resident biologist, who varies between being a good friend and a frightening adversary to Jules. Jules gave ‘birth’ to the sassy Artificial Intelligence IRIS (Xarna Rappold) a super-brained computer, capable of completing numerous tasks at once, but unfortunately with the attitude of a fourteen year old girl. Her skills began to suffer when distracted by a young man, wimpy Percy (Jacob Wehr-Murphy) and his sidekick Izzy (Susanna Gray). The adventures in Ponderlust continue when IRIS tries to take over, by ruining the futures of Chief Costain (Kate Willoughby) and a student scientist (Ellin Sears). Can the nerdy and caring Chief Engineer of the Labs, Harry Kinvig (Max Rankin) save the day? Harry is attached at the hip to Deputy Technician, Lug (Nic Doig) a gentle giant with a heart of gold. Perhaps the Elevator and @lantis PA (Vee McGuire) can intervene and help. Actors from other episodes include Rhys Hyatt as The Bursar, Patrick Downes as Alan Gawne, Jeff Watkins as Dr Roland Templeton, Hannah Gibson as Eleanor Marley, Ron Arthurs as President Benjamin Shottin, and Willy Smeets as Mr Drake. The Ensemble included: Stuart Hayward, James Jury, Chris Buckle, Jason Dohle, Dean Lovatt and Luke Gratton.
Stephen has cleverly added numerous lines of dry humour to his script, with comments such as ‘cannot walk and think at the same time’, a direct link to the reputation of US President Gerald Ford. He chose ‘Dorothy’, the hero from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ as his, along with an in reference to ‘the friends of Dorothy’.
The script is rich, the action fast moving, and the actors superb. Stephen wisely avoided making the convincing dialogue too technical, allowing a whole family to enjoy the stories. There were nice technical touches, such as the echo / reverb on the voice of IRIS. For a short passage of the play I closed my eyes to sample the experience as a radio listener at home. The differences in the cast’s voices were markedly different; some were high pitched, some grumpy, other sounded mentally vague, and so it was easy to recognise the characters. Was Max acting or is his accent really an upper-class, mid-Scotland accent? Very good. Stephen had obviously constructed each character in detail before putting pen to paper, but it may help the listener a little if each actor mentions the names of the other characters in the scene, to whom they are speaking, a touch more, as without seeing the cast names tend to get lost. At the end of the play the audience were more than enthusiastic at the quality they had seen, and deservedly gave a good strong applause, however it made the presenter’s final cast call difficult to hear. It might be advisable to use the floor (stage) manager to control the audience applause until the end of the credits (?).
The show was beautifully written to the radio time slot of 1 hour without a need to edit, very difficult to achieve. It is a credit to the writer / director (Stephen B. Platt) that such a large, well-known and talented cast have given their time to his presentation One quality show would be a difficult task to produce, but a series of seven episodes is more than admirable. Many congratulations and ‘Chookas’ to all concerned.