Home » London Theatre Reviews » The Barren Author starring Richard O’Brien | Review

The Barren Author starring Richard O’Brien | Review

The Barren AuthorEmbellishments happen all the time, I suppose – a sales pitch, for instance, in which a prospective customer is told about the various advantages of a given product or service, some of which may be rather dubious. Or a speech at a political rally. In The Barren Author, however, there are various endeavours that the self-styled ‘The Brigadier’ (Richard O’Brien) recalls from his illustrious past that Smith (Sophie Aldred), who works for Random House, finds difficult to believe. Funnily enough, I found Smith difficult to believe too: having encouraged The Brigadier to put some of his past exploits to paper, she insists that is all she did, and there is no book deal. But what is an employee of a publishing house doing having weekly calls with someone who has written an autobiography if there is no chance of a book being published?

Things become so mysterious (perhaps the episodes in the series are best enjoyed at a slower pace than my ‘binge-listening’ approach) that there are times when I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on – even with Smith’s timely interruptions for clarification from The Brigadier’s evidently astute mind. There’s more than a touch of the absurd, with the man having more resurrections than Jesus, even if his are rather non-divine. Or are they? Mind you, as ancient kingdoms and social media are name-dropped, The Brigadier is so enigmatic that this is a series best enjoyed by just going with the flow and being swept along by the ride.

O’Brien, to be fair, is nothing short of pitch-perfect throughout, ebullient and invigorating, keeping listeners engaged however ridiculous the narrative becomes. After a while, the bombastic and somewhat disorganised trains of thought become strangely appealing – in short, it’s enjoyable but bonkers. That said, it isn’t for everyone, and some may well find the verbosity and pompous manner unbearably puerile.

As a piece of escapism, however, it hits the spot like a cold beer on a blisteringly warm summer’s evening. O’Brien voices various characters in miscellaneous accents, some – perhaps deliberately so – more questionable than others, which only adds to the delusions of grandeur The Brigadier (accept no substitutions) has about himself. Earnestly and enthusiastically told, the narrative is supported by good sound effects and background music, adding to the atmosphere of a particular scene without overwhelming it.

O’Brien’s Brigadier does occasionally minor on the major, insisting for instance that schools teach the purpose of breathing incorrectly (don’t ask). Each of the episodes is, in a way, pretty much the same as the others, in which so many events have been recounted, but to little effective purpose. At least The Brigadier is happy to point out when he has made an error, but even the most negligible of transgressions is a “grave mistake”, and the relentless blustering, consistent as it is, starts to get a tad wearisome.

Although the storyline need not be quite so impenetrable, this is a tour de force performance from Richard O’Brien that showcases his voice brilliantly.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Forty-seven years after he created the sci-fi stage and film cult favourite ‘The Rocky Horror Show’, Richard O’Brien has taken a rare acting role to star in ‘The Barren Author’, a new 6-part audio comedy-drama inspired by the stories of Baron Munchausen by Rudolf Erich Raspe.

O’Brien plays The Brigadier, who is telling the tale in sessions via video calls to the mysterious Smith (Sophie Aldred). But is she all she says she is, and what – in fact – is she? A publisher, a psychiatrist, or in league with forces of evil?

The original Munchausen stories about a fictional German nobleman first appeared in 1785 in the book ‘Baron Munchausen’s Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia’.and told of his impossible achievements as a sportsman, soldier, and traveller including riding on a cannonball, fighting a 40-foot crocodile, and travelling to the Moon.

‘The Barren Author’, written by Paul Birch, produced and directed by Barnaby Eaton-Jones, is not a literal adaptation of the Munchausen stories but takes instead the satirical, provocative and absurd spirit of the original tales and reimagines them for 2020.

Creative Team
Sound Design Joseph Fox
Music Abigail Fox
Songs Darrel Maclaine
Design and Illustration Robert Hammond
Sound Engineer Nigel Masters at The Boat Shed Studios, New Zealand
Produced by Spiteful Puppet in association with AUK

The Barren Author
Price: £3.99 each episode or £19.95 for all 6
if bought together via www.spitefulpuppet.com

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