Jonathan Powell for The Man in the Air Balloon

The Man in the Air Balloon is a radio drama by Jonathan Powell that aired as a part of the ADC’s online season in May last year. The play follows David Mason, a journalist new to London, who becomes plagued by a man in a striped air balloon. To his wife’s deep distress, David becomes obsessed with the man in the balloon. When, years later, he eventually meets the man in the balloon, his whole world falls apart – literally.

Powell’s prose is equally as beautiful as it is painful. His style of storytelling finds its depth in reality but incorporates the strange and the surreal to place a magnifying glass over modern British society. The Man in the Air Balloon exposes the drudgery of the London grind through his examination of art, at perhaps the most existential level. While the play has a prolonged and tedious build, the result is a deeper appreciation for the thoughtful and evocative ending.

“Powell’s prose is equally as beautiful as it is painful.”

The Man in the Air Balloon was also beautifully produced as a radio drama. I’m unsure as to what circumstances it was recorded in, but since it aired during the first lockdown, I would assume it was recorded and assembled independently. If so, the play only deserves higher praise as the voice actors, combined with only-strictly-necessary background noise created an immersive atmosphere. Though stuck in my room, at times, I felt as if I too was rushing through the streets of London, dodging people and buses as we pursued the man in the air balloon.

The voice performances were extremely well-done and were not unlike a BBC Radio 4 drama. Ben Galvin’s performance as David was compelling, but Maria Pointer as Bella Mason carried the story’s emotion – her narration brought intimacy and depth to the play. The multi-talented Jonathan Powell also starred as the Balloon Man, and he was truly quite intimidating and unnerving in his titular role.

“The voice performances were not unlike a BBC Radio 4 drama.”

The Man in the Air Balloon is a slow build, which, if I’m honest, is not-so-subtle code for ‘at times a little bit boring’. David’s dull life in London as a struggling journalist is perhaps masterfully reflected in the often slow dialogue. Without any visual aids, the long build to the climax at times felt stretched out. Despite the prolonged beginning, however, I thought it was worth it for the beautiful ending. In order to not spoil the end, I won’t describe it here. In fact, I feel my words would not do climax justice and instead, I would recommend enjoying it yourself.


Mountain View

S.H.E.E.P. is shear baa-rilliance

Overall, The Man in the Air Balloon was a surprisingly touching and beautiful play. But it was not the gratuitous death and family disturbance that I found emotional, rather the deeply existential climax that stayed with me for some time after. The Man in the Air Balloon is a stirring play that is worth listening to if you’re looking for a radio drama to take you away from some of the monotonies of your own life and into the slightly more eventful and strange life of David Mason and the Balloon Man.