Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Wireless Mystery Theatre Presents…
Wireless Mystery Theatre
Globe, Niddry Street
Wireless Mystery Theatre delivers a varied programme of radio plays as part of the free fringe programme. You can expect an accurate replication of a 1940’s broadcast, with the cast in vintage attire, plus the opportunity to see the written word come to life. Performed with precision timing by experts of suspense theatre, this performance is a perfect example of the genre, which will entertain and educate fans of, and newcomers to, vintage radio theatre.
If you arrive early at this event, you may come across the cast setting up their varied musical instruments and microphones, and positioning props. The seven piece ensemble is already in character. The women have mastered their arched eyebrows and powdered faces, and they sparkle in bright red lipstick. A bright redhead, Bronagh McCrudden, sashays in pencil skirt with curled and permed hairstyle. The males are suited with heavily gelled hairstyles, braces on their suits and the occasional trilby. The cast are crammed onto a small stage and, oncewe are all seated, they begin the theme tune of the show.An intriguing waltz fills the air. Theguitar – played by Nick Boyle – evokes acombination of vamped chords and an ascending mournful melody.Theaccordion swells behind, andthe icing on the cake is a wailingTheremin – wafted by Stephen Todd – haunting you with an ominous air.
The narrator (accordionist Reggie Chamberlain) welcomes and prepares youfor theatre of the unknown. You are unsure of what to expect but an eerie tale begins to unfold. Today it is the “Dunwich Horror” followed by “The Music of Erich Zahn”. The storyteller’s voice booms out through the microphone, setting the scene. Hedescribes the windy atmosphere and the seven players instantly support him with the whistling of the wind. Whippoorwills fly by and their call echoes out from the distance. Footsteps are heard and a character enters. Two men exchange dialogue and their Midwestern American Accents dictate the plot. The narrator forewarns of a scream and a blood curdling wail is launched. The story escalates, coming to a rip roaring climax, and the cast launch into a series of adverts from their sponsors. With overwhelming enthusiasm, Autolite, Brylcreem and Energine shoe white are the products that character actors Ben Maier, Jack Geary and the chirpy McCrudden must sell. Abruptly their eerie theme tune returns and they begin mystery number two.
This was a glorious piece of radio theatre. The cast’s attention to detail was exemplary. With negligible time delay, producer Aislinn Clarke and company pick up every possible opportunity to enhance the storyline with appropriate sound effect, and it is a real joy to see them do this. Silently, they turn over the pages of the written scripts in front of them, so that no extra effects are added. They play multiple parts, at times sharing a microphone, but undaunted by this technical hindrance they regularly interlock arms, swooping scripts around each other. One character shows dexterity by having a lone conversation with himself in two voices.
It’s a small space; some of the cast are raised on a podium so you can really see their facial expressions, which occasionally are intentionally extreme to guarantee accomplished transmission. Orson Wells’ directorial style influences this whole event and, until they finish, the ensemble give no indication that a seated audience are even there. The afternoon I attend it’s a full house and you could hear a pin drop, the spectators are transfixed by the attention to detail and rewarded by its flawlessness. Voices, sound effects, bewitching music and the impact of seeing the cast sympathetically dressed augment this positive experience and ensure the authentic recreation of a bygone era. Fanatics of vintage radio and theatre will not be disappointed.