"Who Cares It’s Not Dickens?"
by Malcolm Eadie for remotegoat on 11/12/16

Those already familiar with The Fitzrovia Radio Hour will know the format - an old style wireless drama performed before a live audience in which the tension between individual actors is the principal interest rather than the actual play they are presenting. Each actor is playing an actor who is playing a part. In this special offering for the festive season, the scheduled live broadcast by the great actor Stanley de Pfeffel and company has had to be switched from its original location at the Old Vic Theatre to the vaults beneath Waterloo station. The reason for this sudden change of location will soon become clear as the performance proceeds. Of course, all this is but a theatrical device and the show takes off at a cracking pace with each actor also having a hand in creating the sound-effects.

As you might expect here, any drama involving Dickens’s characters, be they the reformed curmudgeon Scrooge or the little crippled boy Tiny Tim, is completely eclipsed by the tensions revealed between the actors playing them. Indeed, this is not really about “A Christmas Carol” at all, and adaptors Tom Mallaburn and Jon Edgley Bond have cleverly inserted two-timing romances, ruthless ambition and even murderous intent between the performers who are making the broadcast.

It is a pity that the bounds of credibility are stretched rather too far with the inclusion of adverts into the script which the radio actors perform. This is supposed to be 1940’s Britain when the only broadcaster was the BBC. If this is meant to be a different broadcaster, then it must be a clandestine one; but although this would make sense of the eccentric location and the actors having to make their own sound-effects, it was certainly not part of the story as presented.

On the whole, this is a great ensemble piece though, and the audience clearly enjoyed the prolific double entendres together with the energetic performances of Alix Dunmore, William Findley, Dorothea Myer-Bennett, Michael Lumsden and Samuel Collings. The latter particularly delighted as the ruthlessly ambitious Ernest Andrew, struggling to produce yet another absurd sound-effect after the broadcast has descended into the most appalling revenge ad-libbing. Good fun for all, but maybe don’t bring the kids.

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