My friend had been telling me for a long time we should go see The Fitzrovia Radio Hour, so at last we did. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but while certainly I was entertained, I was also pleasantly surprised. I expected a fairly po-faced reading/performance of authentic 1930s or 1940s radio material, and in fact Cycle of Violence, Ava Carter: Girl Pilot! and a unique rendition of The Day Dorking Stood Silent were new material by Martin Pengelly. As I said before, I am somewhat wary of retro for retro’s sake, and the inclusion of long, rather charming advertising spots for Bairstow’s Home Stores pulled me out of the fun and games. Even if Reith expected all his radio performers to be trussed up in evening wear when recording, he would have been vehemently opposed to advertising (symptomatic of us commercialized Yanks, crikey!). In that sense, the Bairstow’s Home Stores might make more sense if the Fitzrovia Radio Hour was meant to be coming out of Radio Luxembourg (and perhaps, without saying as much, that was their intent all along).
Other than this small niggle, however, the production brought out the excitement of the days of live radio when effects weren’t produced by computer banks (or even foley women walking through the BBC studio, as on the occasions I was there) and sometimes there was only one mic for five actors. Now, I’ve read a lot recently on the days when television went out live, but live radio even trumps this. You can dry on live television, as in stage theatre, and you ruin the show, but on radio, despite whatever madness is going on in the studio, you can still somehow manage to save face to the millions of listeners of the airwaves. A great summation of the chaos that can erupt (as well as a primer on the types of sound effects used in OTR) can be seen in this clip from Frasier: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fkF008b-_Q
However, as in Neil Brand’s The Big Broadcast which was on Radio 4 last year (The Chicago Beefsteak Hour of Charm!), being true to the period doesn’t necessarily mean slavishly copying the sometimes dreadfully dull and formulaic content. I was delighted to discover that Cycle of Violence was a story about a murderous bicycle in Cambridge with some post-modernist digs about class and gender. There were also some great SFX moments including someone’s head getting thumped via cabbage chop (eat your heart out, Waris Hussein). At no point were you supposed to take Ava Carter: Girl Pilot! seriously, but I was unable to take it even a little bit seriously because I kept being reminded of Pendant Audio’s Dixie Stenberg and Brassy Batallion Adventure Theater. This one featured a great SFX moment when one of the actors tore up an entire crate to make it sound like a plane crashing!
The Day Dorking Stood Silent was meant to be a little-green-men-type science fiction story (I think), but the production was highjacked by an Orson Welles-wannabe. Actually, I feel his version of Footsteps, Footsteps, Loneliness, Footsteps (!) was more in keeping with German hörspiel and the Brecht/Beckett school of abstract radio. Daniel Gilfillan’s 2009 book about German experimental radio was one of the best books on radio I’ve read, but there’s no doubt that to a BBC-reared audience, stuff even more out there than the Third Programme was going to sound ludicrous. Nevertheless, the plate-spinning actors managed to salvage their production in the last two minutes and save the day!
The Fitzrovia Radio Hour are
Jon Edgley Bond, Letty Butler, Samara Maclaren, Tom Mallaburn, and Phil Mulryne