Jonathan Powell

With festivals, concerts and all things theatrical having collapsed like dominoes into the post-apocalyptic mist of 2021, we’re suddenly finding ourselves with distinctly emptier diaries than we would like. Not only that, but the deaths of three hundred are seen as a triumph, beach day trips are a go, and if I travelled ten minutes down the road to Wales, cloud-busting on a grassy verge would be illegal. Of course the global pandemic is no laughing matter, but it doesn’t stop us feeling a bit like Harry looking through the bars of Privet Drive to an owl-free sky.

I’ve rarely had the gall to break them, but I’ve always hated rules. Why can’t you sit in the empty form room during break? Why can’t you run on the grass? Why is it wrong to write something that hasn’t been traced out for you first? And who comes up with these rules anyway? Are they sadists? Or are they just bored? I like to think there’s an amorphous blob somewhere up above, playing an elongated game of exquisite corpse with itself, scribbling fragments of arbitrary rules onto pieces of paper and lobbing them at random down to bonk us on the head.

The Man in the Air Balloon is above all else a play borne from my frustration with a world populated by box tickers. Like the idiot who moderated my art A Level, for example, or the bureaucrat who decided it was a good idea to put five year olds through the trauma of exams. It’s also a play about identity. So much of who we are is shaped by the people around us, the little day to day interactions that we used to take for granted and have now been hidden under facemasks and darkened shop windows. Where does that leave us? And what, I wonder, does art have to say about it?

I think it’s important too to remember that radio drama isn’t just a lockdown stand-in for live theatre, it’s a wonderful and dynamic medium in its own right. It lets the listener paint pictures that are entirely their own, to create an artwork, of sorts. I heard it once said that if art had a purpose it wouldn’t be art - which is of course a load of rubbish - but it’s certainly true that art should not be made because someone has told you to make it, least of all an examiner.

Perhaps what I’m trying to say, in my own roundabout sort of way, is that while we may despair at the world as it calls us mad and backwards, it is rarely ever right. A trainee journalist becomes convinced he’s being followed by a strange old man in a hot air balloon. Is he mad, or is it something more? You’ll have to tune in and find out!


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Mountain View

Theatre in Isolation: Week 3

This play has been a joy to work on from start to finish, from writing to directing to painstakingly editing. I’ve been blessed with a stellar producer in Amber De Ruyt, a miracle working sound designer in Kit Treadwell, and an always exceptional script editor in Heather Woodhouse. But special credit must go to the spellbinding cast of eighteen (plus my dog Lola and myself), lead by the consistently brilliant Ben Galvin and Maria Pointer. Rehearsing and recording the whole thing remotely in just a week has been a Herculean effort, but it’s all paid off. We’ve got comedy, mystery, heartbreak and lots of me cackling creepily down the microphone. What more could you possibly want?

I hope this bizarre little story will get people thinking and feeling less afraid that the world isn’t listening. In the end it doesn’t matter what the amorphous blob wants you to do. Just make something. Say something. Do something. Don’t be reckless with the rules, but perhaps worry about them a little less. Lie on the grass and look for shapes in the clouds. And who knows? Perhaps you’ll spot what’s lurking there, just out of sight. The red, blue and yellow of a hot air balloon...

The Man in the Air Balloon will be broadcast on Thursday 14th of May at 7pm on CamFM and the ADC's YouTube Channel.

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