Airplays Review

Leeds College of Music – until Saturday 27th October 2018

Reviewed By Dawn Smallwood


On arrival the stage is impeccably arranged with radio microphones lining up at the front and the orchestra set in the background behind the glass shields. It gives an impression that the audience are special guests of a live radio show and excitement beckons.

BBC Radio Leeds and Leeds Playhouse jointly produced Airplays in coalition with Leeds College of Music. Airplays is a series of chosen radio dramas featuring a collaboration of new work from four Yorkshire based writers. Nick Ahad, a radio presenter, opens proceedings and four 15 minute dramas are personally introduced which are performed by six actors and three musicians under the direction of Kash Arshad. Airplays looks at theme of migration in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the landing of Empire Windrush.

The first play to begin is Emma Barnes’ A Piece of Home. It features Agata and Wiktoria (Susan Twist and Alyce Liburd), mother and daughter, and Mr Rubin (Philip D McQuillan) who poignantly share the past around a grand piano, and how in turn it unites three generations amid the tough decisions that had to be made.

Secondly is Chris O’Connor’s Exodus which is about a family (Chris Jack, Liburd, McQuillan and Twist) in Leeds who, at the height of the nuclear explosions, make the toughest decision on who gets in the boat to safety as there only two spaces left. Sarah (Liburd) who got on the boat relates the gravity of the disaster. She poignantly thinks about her remaining members of her family who didn’t join her and looks on at her new life.

A song is followed (and in conclusion) from On Hearing the First Cuckoo which is beautifully and emotively sung by Flo Wilson. The poetically rich and metaphoric play explores how one feels an outsider (Wilson) from not knowing where one belongs. The minister (McQuillan) interrogates her in detention and inflexibly painting her being an illegal immigrant because of not having the so called identity papers.

Airplays conclude with Gemma Bedeau’s Soon Come, an upbeat lively drama backed with calypso and Caribbean music, and offers an insight into the Caribbean culture. Angela (Elexi Walker) cooks dinner, amid chaos, speaks to Betty (Wilson), her sister who lives in the Carriacou, about the reality of living in another country and how she can’t find the right food to cook a Caribbean meal.

A brief but interesting question and answer session followed where the director, actors and musicians take the opportunity to share their experiences being involved with Airplays. Airplays has been beautifully done with the smooth co-ordination with the music and sounds to the spoken text aired. The broad theme of migration is explored and how each of plays though very different can relate to this. It certainly leaves food for thought and the show will be recorded during its run and each of the plays in turn will be presented in November in BBC Radio Leeds’ Backstage.

Airplays is an unforgettable production and certainly one of the most stand out unique co-productions that have ever been staged. It proves that theatre and radio work really well together and no doubt there will be similar set ups in future productions.