Half Rhyme Productions point out in the coda to their 35-min docu-drama Wavelengths that the material is based on the true story of 'someone who did call into a radio show when on the brink of taking their life... and the presenter kept them live on air for half an hour until help arrived'. The situation passes through various phases. Our phone-in host Dave (Felix Westcott) is playing music, ready to engage with his listeners (on what precise topic is unclear) when the first call comes through. Caller Lee (Louis Vaughan), via prolonged silences and faltering voice (and the radio sound design is nicely handled by Gemma Craig-Sharples), struggles into contact with Dave as he outlines his dangerous predicament. Is this is a hoax, thinks Dave. Has the guy been drinking?
'We'll let you go if you don't like being on air'
'No, no, not like that' quavers Lee.
Authenticity of anguish established, Dave shifts from sceptical reserve to a voice of compassion as he seeks to establish Lee's whereabouts and the urgency of the situation.
Perhaps the principal interest in the play considered as drama lies in its playing out on the radio; thus in public. Yet Dave and Lee seem almost to be involved in a private conversation; even a sort of counselling session. While Half Rhyme encourages us to concentrate on eavesdroppping on the two-hander dialogue, I found my attention straying to thoughts of the hell – others will say paradise, of course – of reality TV with its would-be injection of melodrama and prurient scandal into the banal lives of its participants.
The choice of a radio rather than phone setting encourages the listener to reflect upon the nature of that choice. Why are Lee's troubles now public property? Does he desire that? Is he a fan of the show or of the presenter? If this was a cry for help, is Lee expecting the radio host to bring succour down the line or talk him out of his despair? Did Lee even hope obscurely his individual plight might be diminished by placing it in the lap of 10,000 listeners?
Wavelengths has preferred to sidestep these matters in favour of focusing on Lee and his problems. In my view Felix Westcott's script struggles to rise above the status of a case study, or even of a component in a Samaritans-type training module; and a bare case study is not quite the same thing as satisfying drama. The relative sketchiness of detail here prevented much development of tension and anticipation, and Lee's constant hesitation of speech rather hampered the ability of the dialogue to inform the audience about his individual rather than generic feelings, personality and motivations. There was even a slight sense here of the 35 minutes being a little over-extended.
Felix Westcott's Dave is a model of caring concern, while Louis Vaughan's Lee performs convincingly his stream of anguish. This is a decent stab at psycho-drama by a company which conveys clear signs of embryo talent at work and should go on to greater things given a more substantial dramatic envelope in which to extend itself.