Magazine article The Spectator

Non-Stop Larks

Magazine article The Spectator

Non-Stop Larks

Article excerpt

The Fitzrovia Radio Hour;

Barbershopera, Apocalypse No!

Trafalgar Studios, until 5 February

Gently does it. The Fitzrovia Radio Hour takes us back to the droll and elegant world of light entertainment in the 1940s when the airwaves were full of racy detective shows and overheated melodramas about pushy Yorkshiremen and rogue Nazis.

The show is set in a radio studio during a live performance and we watch the actors rattling through their scripts while scurrying here and there to provide the effects for an exceptionally complex soundtrack. Cabbages get walloped with machetes to suggest stabbing. A game of billiards is done with some doorknobs being chinked together. A melon gets squished to represent the sound of a horse having its head chopped off. It's a neat idea. The gulf between what's seen in the studio and what's heard by the listener is enormous, and the breezy glamour of the performers contrasts strangely with the sheer clumsiness of the noise-making apparatus.

And there's more. The wacky and surreal drama scripts are interrupted by daft adverts for pills and potions which are clearly classA drugs disguised as pick-me-ups. With so many sources of comedy this show can't possibly go wrong. Can it? Er, well, yes, that's just the problem.

Never mind the lack of relevance there's not enough basic simplicity here. Five performers on stage delivering silly lines in silly voices, wielding silly props and wearing silly hats makes everything a bit too hectic. The non-stop larks are complicated by low-level bickering between the actors, who pretend to elbow each other aside to reach for the equipment that produces the mirthful soundscape. A terrible zaniness is born.

The performers clearly adore the epoch they're sending up, so it seems churlish to point out that the show lacks bite. But it does.

Too many gags rely on the recent semantic evolution of words like gay and queer. And occasionally the script flirts with insensitivity. No one would dream of writing jokes about same-sex love nowadays but here ze gays heff Cherman helmets unt funny exents so now ze gayness, it's hilarious, ja? Well, sort of. But it's funny because of the association with xenophobia and jingoism, and the gags assume that the audience accepts the view that being gay is the same as being unvirile and freakish. …

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