“I'm gonna shoot roller-skaters, you coming?” must be one of the best offhand lines of dialogue ever. It encapsulates the grimly humorous, nihilistic ambience of Michael Wall's futuristic Headcrash (Saturday, Radio 3), a weird piece that's languished in the archives since 1986, finally finding a sympathetic slot in the “experimental” Studio 3 season two years after its authors death.
Strong on mood and stingy with specifics, Wall's post-apocalyptic wasteland is peopled by a mixed bag of creeps, crazies, hitters and bozos. Our “hitters” are Boy and Yuka, tooled-up and revved-up as they cruise the freeways, blowing away fellow travellers to gain advancement in a bizarre officially sanctioned game.
Yuka (Toyah Willcox) is smothered in bandages because her skin is disintegrating. Boy (Jeremy Flynn) was born in a highway pile-up, could drive before he could walk, and tries to keep a mental record of their life with the archaic words (“mother”, “crime”) that pop into his head. Some time later we learn that they're related. But that's about all we learn.
Where and why this wasteland exists, who's in charge and how the game works never become clear. Hints at contemporary relevance and a vague suggestion it's all happening in Boy's head are dangled. But Headcrash decelerates to an almost apologetic halt with Boy becoming “a real bastard”, freed of encumbrances and able to kill with his eyes alone.
Even so, this was gripping stuff thanks to its evocation of the sensations, if not the sense, of a demented future world. Mia Soteriou and David Chilton provided a revolutionary soundtrack, the dialogue constantly underlaid by a driving electro-hum, a rhythm reminiscent of telegraph poles ticking past at speed. The effects - explosions, rat attacks, the scream of rending steel - were laced in to make a superb totality of sound.
Flynn was a little stilted as the confused Boy. But Wilcox was excellent in what was her radio debut, freaking out at the rodents, gleefully dismembering a posse of ambushing crazies, or eviscerating one of the “Creeps” who enforce the game (an act in direct contravention of the rules I might add). Of course, the theme of Headcrash is not remotely experimental. From Schwarzenegger to Sam Shepard, the idea has had more mileage than Boy could ever hope to travel. It is Wall's refusal to use the scenario as an obvious metaphor, and the technical excellence of Jeremy Mortimer's production that distinguish it. It's probably what kept it off the air for so long, too.
- Nick Curtis