Personally, I love a good radio play. The Entertainment is a brilliant one – it treats the form as an advantage as opposed to a limitation, and in doing so produces something truly creative and individual. Not only that, but it’s a brilliant piece of theatre in general: the plot is genuinely original, the characters are nuanced, the structure works. Katie Bonna has made a radio play that demands to be listened to.
As we put in our headphones, listeners are introduced to Anna, a queer woman who works for a business that provides children’s birthday parties. Primarily, the play follows her life in this job and her relationship with a woman named Justine. However, we are also introduced to two other worlds: Anna’s ‘happy place’, where she imagines an ideal life and fantasises about being with Justine, and another world where Anna has dark, gruesome fantasies about enacting shootings and forced hysterectomies on the people that annoy her.
Katie Bonna is an outstanding writer. The play is filled with sharp, wry humour, riffing on the sheer ridiculousness of upper-middle class mothers on Mumsnet and people in suits eating Itsu. The writing feels so married to its audio format that I can’t really imagine it any other way: Anna talks about headphones – about sound – so much, and the sound design makes the experience truly immersive. At the start of the production, Bonna suggests that we close our eyes when a particular piece of music plays, and this is hugely effective in making the play a physical experience. Huge praise must go to Sound Designer Anna May Fletcher and Composer Eamonn O’Dwyer for an impressive attention to detail: the soundscapes created, especially towards the end of the play, are both highly polished and organic enough to bring the chaos of the – mostly imagined – action to life.
Every element of The Entertainment feels original, singular, fresh. Anna as a narrator is complex and hard to pin down, but we as listeners still feel like we get to know her intimately. The delicate balance of witty comedy, light social commentary, and disturbing imagery is pulled off smoothly, creating an overall vibe that feels very much its own: I often find myself comparing one-person plays to others, spotting familiar patterns, but this show stands out from the crowd, forging its own path. The LGBT+ representation is also refreshingly casual: Anna is unapologetically queer but it’s never really a plot point and she never stops to talk about coming out or dealing with homophobia.
Bonna’s voice acting is superb throughout: I initially think there must be multiple actors as she manages to make Justine in particular feel like an entirely different person. It’s difficult to find a material flaw with the play: however, there are moments where the script’s many layers mean you really have to pay attention, and a few points where it feels like central themes of imagination and addiction could be pushed further. In addition to this, it doesn’t feel like Anna’s character is unpacked as thoroughly as she perhaps could’ve been, meaning there isn’t as much of an emotional gut punch. Rather than flaws with the show, however, these points suggest to me that perhaps it would’ve worked better as a longer piece, with an interval or split into episodes.
Emptying my dishwasher as Bonna paints a picture of horror at a children’s birthday party, it feels obvious to me that she’s a real talent to look out for. The Entertainment makes the radio play format into a weapon, sharpened to bring out laughs, shock, and contemplation.
The Entertainment is streaming online as part of the Edinburgh Fringe until 29 August. For more information and tickets, see the Fringe website.