It is a tale of intrigue, of passion, of jealous rivalry, of violence, of (attempted) murder most awfully horrid, and of a hotly contested nightcap. Yes, the Fitzrovia Radio Hour team are back with their annual festive audio-visual treat, which this year takes the form of that yuletide favourite, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
If you haven’t come across this madcap little group yet, you are in for a treat. They recreate classic 40s and 50s radio dramas live on stage, complete with spiffing accents, impeccable moustaches, affectionate teasing and a contemporary twist of sardonic humour. They scamper from one microphone to the next, hastily donning accessories as they change roles, and creating an impressive range of Foley sound effects using an improbable selection of props. Thus a wet balloon becomes an expanding doorknob, a bowl of Rice Krispies a roaring fire, and a human skull a turkey. Don’t ask.
Their version of the classic story is appropriately festive and relatively faithful to the text, notwithstanding the fact that the characters all seem to be inordinately fond of a certain brand of gin – a nod to their sponsor. However, as usual, there are wheels within wheels.
The performance has had to be hastily relocated from the Old Vic to the rather more modest milieu of The Vaults, following an unfortunate accident in which Stanley de Pfeffel, writer, director and reigning Scrooge for the past eighteen years, was squashed by a falling set. In his most regrettable absence the incumbent Tiny Tim, Ernest Andrew, has seized the reins with somewhat suspicious alacrity, much to the distress of fellow actress Gretchen Haggard, whose debilitating grief implies that her feelings for de Pfeffel may be rather more than professional. The remaining members of the group, Vanity Fair and Beau Belles, are oblivious to the seething tensions around them, being almost entirely obsessed with each other and seizing every opportunity to snog behind the props.
Despite the chaotic atmosphere, this is a very polished production. It has to be; to give the impression of constantly teetering on the brink of calamity without ever tipping over one has to maintain iron control, and the group does just that. All five performers have pin-point timing and precision and their frantic interactions are seamless. They also have a marvellous talent for both audio and visual humour. Tom Mallaburn and Jon Edgley Bond’s script is almost perfect; the humour is warm, clever and family friendly, effortlessly bridging the gap between the ethos of the period and a modern audience. A couple of slightly risqué jokes jar rather than shock; they just don’t fit with the polished elegance and rapier wit of the wordplay, being rather more Frankie Howerd than Oscar Wilde.
Nevertheless, this production is a cleverly crafted, funny and original Christmas delight. A huge thank you to the Fitzrovia Radio Hour team – jolly well done, chaps and chapesses.
Review by Genni Trickett
The festive classic is reimagined as a 1940s-style radio drama, which broadcasts live from the theatre across the mighty British Empire. Fighting off visitations from more ghosts than they bargained for, can the multi-tasking cast keep the spiffing sounds and varied inhabitants of Victorian London alive for the duration of the broadcast?
Spectacular sound effects created live, cut-glass accents, sharp suits and of course a good helping of spooky ghosts combine to create a unique alternative festive entertainment, in the intimate surroundings of The Vaults under Waterloo station, specially adapted to include the option of cabaret seating for fearless audience members, and a festive welcome treat for everyone to get the traditional Christmas spirit flowing straight away.
The Fitzrovia Radio Hour are an acclaimed troupe whose period charms have worked wonders on venues including Shakespeare’s Globe, Wilton’s Music Hall and the Royal Albert Hall, as well as a sell-out West End season. Miraculously, their audiences all survived a recent adaptation of Dracula, and hopefully the same will be true of this strictly limited four-week festive romp.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Tuesday 6 December – Friday 30 December 2016 (full schedule below)
The Vaults Theatre, Launcelot Street, London SE1 7AD
Running time 80 minutes without interval – Age guidance 12+
Tickets: £20 – £35 / Box Office 020 7183 5942 / Book online at www.ChristmasCarolLondon.com