Emily Shen for the Balloonist Masterplan: Forgotten Lives

It was a happy new year, apparently, but then came the mop-haired herald of doom to remind us, of course, that it wasn’t. Lockdown 3: Revenge of the Sage had arrived. Then out of the blue, there came a gentle knocking at the back of my mind. Behind a half-closed door, in the basket of an air balloon, there sat a little man in a bowler hat, begging me for a sequel. Thanks to Bojo, the Balloon Man was back!

After the announcement, I bolted to the local park, slave to the knocking, and spent the early hours meandering through the darkness, cackling like a lunatic into voice notes. I’m going to abandon this little context dump now for fear of sounding like a psycho, but I think it’s helpful (and maybe mildly entertaining) to know how Forgotten Lives came about: in a surge of frustrated method acting at a world gone mad.

"Forgotten Lives came about in a surge of frustrated method acting at a world gone mad.”

Or not so much mad, because that’s not really the point anymore. It’s a world where the teeth of mainstream satire have been gobbled up by the objects of their derision, the economy has hit an iceberg and seems intent on blasting bigger holes into the hull, and everyone in authority, from ministers to vice-chancellors, seem to have decided that slapping a welfare conscious rubber stamp onto crippling policies is the same as actually caring about people. In short, it’s a world that’s shooting itself repeatedly in the foot, and yet nobody seems to be noticing, or cottoning on to why we can’t walk around anymore. Why is that, I wonder?

But what about the play, I hear you cry, because that’s probably why you’re reading this, right? Either that or you’re just procrastinating like I am right now, writing this article, in which case digital high-five! Don’t knock procrastination, it’s how we stay sane. Otherwise we’re nothing but essay writing, problem solving machines scurrying like ants back to our pointless little lives… Sorry. Soapbox away, back to the play. There’s a point to all this, I promise.

For those who missed the original The Man in the Air Balloon last year and are after a bit of background, the Balloon Man is an elegantly manipulative shapeshifting alien artist, currently trapped in the body of an old man. And that’s about all you need to know, because The Balloonist Masterplan: Forgotten Lives acts as both a sequel and a standalone soft reboot for new listeners, catapulting the cast into space and kickstarting a whole new bombastic Balloonist saga.

“Built around a rip-roaring prison break, Forgotten Lives is the Balloon Man at his manipulative best.”

But what’s it about, you ask? Well, in a typically meta case of art reflecting life, I knew that in the time since we last saw him, the Balloon Man had been unceremoniously thrown into space prison by his own people. Nothing Doctor Who about this script at all, he says winking knowingly at the camera. Built around a rip-roaring prison break, Forgotten Lives is the Balloon Man at his manipulative best, as he encounters a cynical android, a mad scientist, an unbalanced soldier, and (I think) the first ever Camverse crossover! Not to mention a certain therapist who consistently manages to turn the offer of tea into a veiled threat.

As I type, we’re coming to the end of what has been a recording marathon of epic proportions, and as well as a few returning friends and foes, we’ve had the privilege to work with some seriously stellar new voices along the way. Spearheading the prison society of The Gulf with her own brand of toxic positivity is the bat-bleep crazy Leila Varok, played to perfection by Linseigh Green. ‘The Gulf is not a prison’, she claims, while her system plucks people indiscriminately out of the world and tortures them for their crimes. Major crimes too, like drinking mint tea and sitting on a park bench. Observational comedy here, people.


Mountain View

In Denial: Light-hearted satire for laughing through lucklessness

But before I leave you with a link to The Man in the Air Balloon and a mounting excitement for March 23rd, let me just drag my soapbox back out again for a few more lines. While Forgotten Lives is fun, hopefully witty, outlandish and absurd, it’s also grounded in something very real. I’ve wanted to write my sci-fi take on Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago for a long time, and sitting at home once again in the wake of a world that seems to be quickly forgetting the lives of so many people, be they in Chinese camps or in the house next door, it seems that now is most definitely the time to ask ourselves why we, me included, seem so determined to keep our eyes shut.

Catch it at 8pm on Tuesday 23rd March at ADC Online.