Radio Active | Review by Steve Bennett
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Radio Active

Review by Steve Bennett

This may be a warning as the BBC prepares to revive a raft of classic TV sitcoms: Not everything you remember fondly stands the test of time.

It’s been 37 years since Radio Active crackled into life at the Fringe, kick-starting the careers of Angus Deayton et al. And my, does it feel it.

Not just because of once-contemporaneous jokes about Mollie Sugden, Carling Black label ads or Call My Bluff date the original scripts, but because the whole superior Oxbridgey tone of the local radio spoof and its formal presentation seems very much of another era.

The script is patchy, too. Summoning an underling to come and see him, one of Deayton’s characters (though they are all the same here, aloof and sneery) says: ‘You know where my office is.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Well maybe you can tell me, I’ve forgotten.’ You can feel the effort creaking into that dad joke, typical of so many here. And the material got the reaction it deserved, a lot of silence broken by the occasional titter.

Radio Active doesn’t have the same gang show feel of other classic radio comedies that have been successfully revived, such as Round The Horne. The quartet, also comprising Helen Atkinson-Wood, Michael Fenton Stevens and Philip Pope, feel like actors working on a project for expediency rather than a single unit of friends. As indeed, they are. The scripts were mostly by Deayton and the late Geoffrey Perkins, the much-missed fifth member of the team.

Despite the lack of chemistry, the cast’s talents are among the show’s assets. Fenton Stevens’s performance of the nerve-racked Martin Brown makes him one of the few enduring characters whereas Atkinson-Wood is versatile in a range of fairly one-dimensional women. (Not that the writing is sexist, the men are one-dimensional too)

A couple of scenes shine, most notably the Radio Active Dramatic Repertory Company’s production of David Chuzzlenut sparkles with inventive ways of fluffing lines and misplacing cues. It’s the father of the current West End hit The Play That Goes Wrong, with Acorn Antiques as the mother.

Pope’s music is also a real stand-out; the spot-on spoof of Status Quo a brilliant parody which also brings some dynamism to the show,  which is mostly presented as a radio recording, the actors holding scripts behind mics. But for the Boring Song the three men step out from the microphones and air-guitar like mofos, Fenton Stevens especially seems to have missed his calling as a rock god.

The only unfortunate thing here is that the ‘false ending’ trick is also used not only on the other musical parody, the Hee Bee Gee Bees track Meaningless Songs (in Very High Voices) that serves as the climax, but also on a couple of jingles.

But these occasional peaks are not enough to make Radio Active’s revival anything like essential, with few laughs even from the die-hard fans who packed the room. Where’s Ivan Brackenbury when you need him? The spoof hospital radio DJ would, with creator Tom Binns’ genuine passion for radio, knock this into a cocked hat.

Review date: 11 Aug 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Pleasance Courtyard

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