Edinburgh Fringe 2012
A brilliant, fast-paced piece of physical theatre founded on a lively script that distills the essence of everything that made the golden age of radio sparkle. It showcases THE talents to spot this Fringe.
We enter to find 3 free standing radio microphones under an “on air” warning light. To the back are trestle tables, on top of which are all manner of weird, wonderful and humdrum objects. Several hatstands are festooned with costume coats and many, so many hats. A show premised on an audio output turns out to be visually engrossing. The only pre-recorded sound is period music, the only lighting effect is turning the “on air” light on. The cast arrive dressed for the occasion. The ladies are in gowns, the gentlemen in dinner suits. My companion wonders (in a voice that carries) whether the bow ties are pre or self tied, they look a little too perfect. He speculates on matters as diverse as a watch chain in a breast pocket, “where’s that one’s waistcoat?” and ruminates on a pocket square fold which he doesn’t fancy.
The Fitzrovia Radio Hour is a triplex. On the first level are a set of brilliantly conceived pastiches of old time radio drama. On the second are the off-air personas of Fitzrovia’s voice artists. Each is competing for their share of the microphone, they are held together and torn apart by underlying animosities and grievances. The third level, the chapel on the 100th floor, is a company of wonderfully gifted actors with a talent for employing all manner of everyday objects as sources for sound effects. They are Letty Butler and Samara Maclaren, glamorous, captivating as well as downright funny; The bi-polar bear Tom Mallaburn, schooled in every hemisphere of theatrical capacity; The dashing Edwardian playboy, Jon Edgley Bond, graduate of the Bristol Old Vic; and not least the straight up Phil Mulryne, the quiet man who keeps the volume high.
This year the company return to the Fringe with three scripts: Ava Carter – Girl Pilot!; Cycle of Violence; and The Day Dorking Stood Silent. These have each been broken into two parts which has the (needed) effect of keeping the pacing sharp as a winged Mercury (Theatre). It would be a Bold Venture, even for a company as good as this, to stick to any one story for too long – they don’t have the LUX-ury. Modern audiences can only be expected to possess a limited appreciation of Old Time Radio. Which is why it matters that Fitzrovia is a homage and not an obituary. The (Lives of Harry) Lime in the coconut is the sharp observation of the foibles, prides and prejudices of the era with a zesty contemporary edge. The brilliant ending free-for-all as Mallaburn’s persona attempts to impose a magnum opus all his own is the best kind of rehearsed spontaneity.
I’ve just had to relocate from my usual spot for typing up reviews. The radio was on (too loud) but the wireless wasn’t. Each era has its idioms and ours is no exception. Nostalgia, as Dr. Johnson supposedly quipped, is the last refuge of the moron – and they don’t make writers like him these days. Fitzrovia is far more than a nostalgia-fest. It is a brilliant, fast-paced piece of physical theatre founded on a lively script that distills the essence of everything that made the golden age of radio sparkle. It showcases THE talents to spot this Fringe. If you don’t see this show now, then in the years to come you’ll be pretending that you did.