BARBERSHOPERA: APOCALYPSE NO! / THE FITZROVIA RADIO HOUR
Trafalgar Studio 2, London SW1
Opened 13 January, 2011
** / ***

Two somewhat belated London “transfers” of Edinburgh Fringe shows are now on offer in separate houses in the smaller of the Trafalgar Studios. The Barbershopera company’s shtick is now well-established: they do a capella musical comedy thrillers. Yet this year’s offering is a departure to a degree. Barbershopera mark I told the tale of a company competing in the world barbershop quartet championships; its follow-up, The Barber Of Shavingham, centred on a matador inheriting a barber shop in Norfolk. In each case, the story grew more or less organically out of the form. Apocalypse No!, however, concerns a put-upon primary school teacher’s attempts to stave off the Eschaton, having teamed up through a misunderstanding with three of the Four Horsemen so that the quartet now consists of War, Famine, Pestilence and Beth. It bowls along in a cheap’n’cheerful, musically adept way, but form and content feel quite incidental to each other now, especially given composers Rob Castell and Tom Sadler’s fondness here for Latin rhythms and Temptations-style Motown numbers. I can understand their desire to cast their narrative net wider, but the risk is that the whole enterprise comes off as just another novelty.
    
In the second-house show, the Fitzrovia Radio Hour makes a better fist of things. Also potentially a one-trick pony – in this case, a pastiche 1940s radio broadcast including a number of episodic thrillers plus commercials – the Fitzrovia company’s potential for serial reinvention (no pun intended) is greater, since they need only fashion ten minutes or so at a stretch of ripping yarns such as Undead Queen Of Evil! and He Should Have Known His Place. The company of five circulate in formal dress around old-fashioned stand-up microphones, delivering lines in cut-glass antique BBC accents and supplying sound effects (crumpling cellophane for flames, and the classic of using a lettuce as a human head for purposes of blows from sharp and blunt instruments). No opportunity for period camp passes unfondled; the commercials are especially fecund, though also especially anachronistic since, even including pirate stations, the first advertisement was not heard on British radio until the mid-1960s. The overall result is an appealing hybrid of the radio-on-stage format of the Round The Horne Revisited show from a few years ago and comedian Harry Enfield’s “Mr Cholmondley-Warner” parodies.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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