The Fitzrovia Radio Hour, The Last Days of Decadence, London

Ripping yarns and jolly japes
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

The idea of recreating the recording of a radio show on stage as a dedicated theatrical and comic pursuit was pioneered by Michael Kingsbury and Brian Cooke with Round the Horne Revisited in 2003. Now enter The Fitzrovia Radio Hour who offer another nostalgic product, with their pastiches of 1940s radio drama, using completely original scripts.

The troupe consist of five – three men, two women – vocally and facially skilful performers, impeccably dressed and full of the vim of RP when they are not attempting to overplay regional or foreign accents.

Tonight they populate the airwaves with three ripping yarns: the tale of a boxer struggling to recreate past glories; the story of a couple trapped in a haunted house; and a caper involving the disappearance of the Eiffel Tower. Each of these tales is broken in two and returned to later, and then interrupted again by an interval and by faux advertisements for a whisky that has almost magical social-mixing powers.

Throughout each tale, a sound- effects table in the middle of the stage, where the tricks of the trade are laid out as if for a television-cookery show, is an important focal point. It never distracts, though, from the rapidly unfurling romps. From here the devices and gags that are dished out include a spinning top, used for the sound of a speedboat engine starting up, and bubblewrap, wrenched to sound like a neck being broken. Other soundscapes that emanate from the desk include, in one particularly effective scene, a gentleman's club recreated by tinkling glasses (four pencils in one glass), glugging sounds and shouts of "Inja" (India).

It's not all about sound for this radio show, of course, and the cast are equally effective ciphers for laughs with plenty of visual goofing. For example, in the tale of troubled boxer Ted Miller, his trainer and his romantic adversary are played by the same actor. In one scene it's only the swift removal and replacement of a scarf that differentiates between the two as they engage in a quickfire conversation.

Meanwhile, it's the hammy delivery of the lines in these Boy's Own-style tales that invests them with humour. The troupe use emphasis and accents to juice laughs from the lines rather than any deliberate, genre-clashing, heavy gagsmithing.

The final story of the show, "The Day They Stole The Eiffel Tower", is the most obviously loose when it comes to comedy and drama. It's reminiscent of an un-PC Peter Sellers outing and has a bowler-hatted Englishman, an Irishman and a Chinaman combining to outwit the French detective who owes some debt to 'Allo 'Allo!

With that kind of a collision of comedy heritage what could possibly go wrong? In the hands of this troupe the answer is nothing. The ingredients all add up to a clever and entertaining hour.

To 4 July, then new programme 6-25 July (