Fitzrovia Radio Hour
What does the sound of radio look like? If youre talking about a 21st century comic pastiche of 1940s-era tales of derring-do and adverts for single malt then it looks like well-dressed and facially mobile actors manipulating props ranging from cabbages to spinning tops to preserving jars, as well as smooching or slapping their own or each others faces. This all done with perfect timing and dexterity while reading from appropriately yellowed and astutely penned scripts.
The Fitzrovia Radio Hour has been going for a few years, regularly producing new material, performing in new venues, and building up an appreciative following of punters and critics. This was my third outing to see the show and it gets slicker with each turn. Last Days of Decadence provides a very suitable and intimate space for the five member cast and their microphones, although sitting in the front row I did almost feel in the way at times, especially when the plot called for a large canvas kitbag to be dropped in order to facilitate the representation of a dead or unconscious soul collapsing to the floor.
This was especially prevalent in The Champion, tale of an East End former boxing champ forced back into the ring by poverty and a predatory landlord (Leonard Hunt a complete Hunt). The ironic theatrical value of staging a radio show comes through brilliantly at moments such as that during the big fight when a single actor conducts a conversation with himself, now as the boxers manager, now as the nasty landlord; rapid fire movement between lisping cockney and nouveau-riche ex-cockney accents are embellished by a supporting cast member who whips off the sweaty towel around the neck and replaces with a fedora at the appropriate moments.
This witty self-consciousness is woven into the atmosphere of the production (and worn in the wry glances that pass between the cast), and perfectly suited to the sophisticated but vaguely louche and whisky-sodden wartime era atmosphere that the writing and costumes and the sound effects – capture so well. It also excuses the xenophobia that we associate with that era and which thus allows, for example, the appearance of rabidly stereotyped Frenchmen, Chinamen and Irishmen in The Day They Stole the Eiffel Tower. A sly nod to these inbuilt prejudices that comedy plays on is made by holding up audience instruction cards that say, as well as Applause or Groan, Turkish Murmur or Chinese Murmur.
The hour long show is split into two halves and contains three features, each presented in two parts with a cliffhanger in the middle. The third of these is The Patter of Feet, the tale of the highly strung, amnesiac but perhaps not entirely benign Olive and a haunted country house. The sound of a shallow grave being dug is made by a trowel and a flowerpot; the lovely touch is the fake red flower stuck in the flowerpot. And bubble wrap has never seemed menacing until you realise how much it sounds like a human neck at the end of an unfortunate fall down the stairs.
Between these are trails for other shows and ubiquitous and rather terrifying ads for Cadogan Whiskey, lovingly administered by a caring gentleman to his medically ailing friend.
The production and acting in this show are excellent, and do absolute justice to the equally brilliant writing. Frenetic but smoothly done, and laugh-aloud funny from start to finish, Fitzrovia Radio Hour goes to Edinburgh for the first time this year, so catch them now before everyone else finds out!
Showing until July 31st see fitzroviaradio.co.uk for more info.