BRAM AT THE BBC: A FRIVOLOUS FORTIES FRIGHTENER
Ah, happy memories! As an unfledged BBC techie in the ‘70s, my favourite job was “Spot Effects” in radio drama studios: a technique then still requiring a visit to the huge Spot FX Store to sign for tin thunder-sheets, rattles, and Heath Robinson contraptions with titles like “No.3 Creak” and “Rustic latch”. I tramped in gravel-pits, scrunched up old tape to make “rustling forest floor, autumn”, and if it was a whodunnit might get to stab a cabbage and throw a sack to the floor while a member of the BBC Drama Rep cried “Ooof!”. My finest hour was when a director suddenly called “Libby daaarling, can we HEAR the Alsatian running downstairs?” and I achieved this with fingernails scrabbling claw-like on planks. I always wanted to have a go at “whimpering dog” or “gurgling baby”, but that counted as Professional Acting, and was generally supplied by a jolly lady from the rep called Olwen.
It is this world which the Fitzrovia Radio Hour company took to their nostalgic bosom, camping it up beautifully in shows recreating 1940’s radio drama (unlike ours it was done live, with the cast themselves often doing the props). Contemplating a piano-organ, a microphone and a tableful of apparently random junk, we are the studio audience as our heroes attempt Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The twist in this case is that the innocent BBC has cast a real Romanian aristocrat for verisimilitude, David Benson as Count Alucard . And he is, of course, a real vampire . You can tell by the cloak, Benson’s joyfully extreme coarse-acting mannerisms, and the fact that unlike the others he doesn’t clutch a script. Around him, reading their roles and bustling with props, are the announcer/van Helsing (Dan Starkey), the matinee idol Harker (a smooth towering Jon Edgley Bond) and the two women: Fiona Sheehan as Meena and other ingenues has a lovely cut-glass delivery which makes the word “Lucy” into “Lewsee”; and a hilarious Joanna Wake is the doddering veteran thespienne in a feathered toque who has worked for the BBC since it was founded. She plays not only Lucy but others including a gloriously overdone “Cockney Paper Boy”. They all do wolves too, when necessary.
Cal McCrystal directs this most ambitious of Fitzrovia’s productions, now planning to tour, and this sharpens it no end: he specializes in physical comedy and supervised that aspect of Hytner’s One Man Two Guvnors. It shows: visual jokes come thick and fast, nicely driven by the irritable unspoken relationships between the cast (they never speak off-script), and by the melon-stabbing, footstep-crunching, Marigold-glove flapping, orange-sucking, celery-crunching, flowerpot-as-sarcophagus-lid manoeuvres . These are constantly, frantically done in the corner by anyone not speaking. Wake’s struggle with the funeral bell chime is a joy. And there is a comic innocence in the evening dress and crisp 1940’s diction (“Braahm Stoker’s tale of tirror”), and in cloudy visions of Alvar Liddell encountering the vampire beyond the studio glass. The Old BBC-ness of it makes a lovely counterpoint to the absurdity of the whole exercise and the developing disaster. Proper, silly, polished pleasure.
box office 01206 573948 http://www.mercurytheatre.co.uk
to 15 Nov