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Adelaide Fringe 2015

Great Detectives of Old Time Radio Live

Preachrs Podcast OnLine and OnStage

Genre: Mainstream Theatre

Venue: Capri Theatre, 141 Goodwood Road, Goodwood


Low Down

A cast of radio actors present three classic crime dramas that enthral the audience. Dragnet, one of the most famous crime dramas from the golden era of radio drama, is based on real-life cases and transcribed from police reports. Up next, Candy Matson, a vivacious gal always finding herself in tricky situations. In this story she gets caught up in the hunt for a secret formula—double agents and international espionage are involved. Finally, Yours Truly Johnny Dollar racks up quite an expense account in a baffling murder case.


The audience walks into the theatre to find the radio cast already sitting around a table, playing cards, drinking tea, flicking through scripts and relaxing before the recording. This is an interesting setup; the audience can see what happens in a 1930s studio while a radio play is being recorded. The cast is suitably outfitted in discreet frocks and suits of the time. A gramophone in the corner provides the sound effects, and two vintage microphones that will be used by the actors, and a tea trolley to the side complete the picture.

The first recording begins: the announcer introduces Dragnet while its distinctive title soundtrack plays ominously in the background. The story revolves around a concerned woman (but not a gossip) who reports her neighbour missing. Detective Joe Friday and his assistant, Irene, start an investigation that leads to the discovery of the missing woman’s children abandoned in their hovel, a widespread search for the mother, and a fine example of justice being served. Although the plot is slightly monotonous, it is a demonstration of police procedure and the actors did an exemplary job with depicting a range of characters using only their voices.

Candy Matson’s story is more exciting—her character brings to mind an exuberant Nancy Drew, and in a similar fashion she takes risks and follows her intuition determined to resolve the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of a prominent scientist. Yours Truly Johnny Dollar raises the bar with an even more intriguing and exciting caper. He captures the essence of the noir detective, with a growing expense account, surly yet charismatic persona (when in the company of a lady), and devil-may-care attitude.

The actors did a fantastic job with the range of voices; standouts include Julia Sciacca and Eden Trebilco in their roles as Candy Matson and Johnny Dollar, especially when they incorporated animation and actions to the reading (after all, this was in front of a live audience). The actions and gestures broke the monotony of watching the actors read from scripts, and brought life to the voices and dialogue. Jennifer Barry also demonstrated admirable vocal talent and range, but Therese Hornby struggled to maintain her characters and authentic accents, often lapsing back to a previous character, and her range was slightly more limited than other cast members. Benjamin Maio Mackay, Michael Allen and Brian Knott helped the stories move forward in their support roles.

The dialogues were well written—the stories captured the mood of 1930s America and the pace kept the audience engaged. Well-timed quips and wisecracks lightened the mood and added to the parody. The sound effects were also spot on in terms of authenticity, giving clues to what was coming and adding to the drama. The audience responded appropriately with gasps, knowing laughs and chuckles.

This was an enjoyable performance that improved with each story and entertained the audience. Thanks to the direction and it took us back to a time when entertainment consisted of well-scripted plots, vocal talent, and minimal sound effects—even those who had never experienced authentic radio drama were enthralled by the talent on stage and engaging stories.