Brighton Fringe review: Terry Arkwright, The Dark Helmet Speaks

By Steve Bennett

If you’re making a podcast, I’m sure there is the nagging feeling you you might just be airing your content into a void... so why not perform it in a fringe theatre, and remove all doubt?

To be fair, Terry Arkwright: The Dark Helmet Speaks is not, it appears, a genuine podcast, but the framework for a show in the radio style, read by actors seated behind microphones scripts in hand.

It’s a static format that doesn’t seem to require an audience... and it turns out that the audience doesn’t need the show, either, as there are more people on stage of this Brighton Fringe show than there are paying punters. And there are only three people on stage.

The premise is that these podcast give the background and ongoing adventures of an accidental vigilante; an ageing part-time plasterer who ineffectively confronted some youths while wearing what amounts to fancy dress. The ensuing publicity – and YouTube footage – convinced him he could be en route to minor celebrity, so he tries to fuel the myth without actually doing anything.

It’s a reasonable premise, but executed dryly. By telling stories retroactively, the show becomes a passive monologue from creator Les Hull. One of the other performers is reduced to a shallow foil prompting the next bit of the story; while the best actor of the three is wasted on the occasional stereotypical bit part.

Nor is there much focus, the second of three episodes here, for example, seems concerned mainly with Arkwright’s dabblings in the hippy movement of the Seventies. Across the whole 70-minute show (which was advertised as 40) the aim is more a detached character study of Arkwright rather than anything too dramatic or funny. Which isn’t particularly great for something advertised in the comedy section.

The premise is promising, the core character essentially endearing and a wry wit occasionally rears its head. But the script is over-written with too much laden description and not enough funnies. It feels like a first draft, but Hull has been performing this since at least 2008, and if it’s not sparkling now, it’s unlikely it ever will.

This seems a sweet, well-intentioned project, but probably one best best kept as a garage hobby, and possibly a freely offered podcast. It’s certainly too slight for a paying audience.

Published: 9 May 2013

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