I only learned about a month ago that the Fitzrovia Radio Hour, in addition to their live touring performances which pastiche (both affectionately and knowingly) old-time radio, recorded some of their early live performances (though not of their own material). I wasn’t sure what to expect of these plays, which they’ve generously made available on their website; part of the charm of their original material is its rewriting of the genre as well as the visual element. I’m happy to say that Leinegen and the Ants, an action-adventure script from the US, has translated very well in podcast format.
Although I can’t verify it, I can imagine that the script would have come from something like Carleton E. Morse’s I Love a Mystery serials. It hasn’t got any parts for women, but one can see why a script like this was chosen: it’s fun to act, and it’s even more fun to imagine. We can only surmise, by the audience’s laughter, what kind of crazy stuff the cast was doing live to achieve the sound effects, but this detracts not at all from the experience.
It concerns some British explorers in “the darkest heart of Africa.” The manly Leinigen has been warned by his neighbor Carruthers that he needs to abandon his farm because a wave of man-eating ants are swarming by; “nothing of you [will] be left but a skeleton picked clean!” Leinigen wants to stay and fight because, in his opinion, “Intelligence directed by right always makes man a master of his fate.” Leinigen asks his African staff (that’s a euphemistic way of putting it) if they will stay and help defend his farm. They will, if Leinigen ensures the safety of their wives and children further down the river. Leinigen sounds a bit like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast: “I knew the men would give me that answer.” Carruthers’ masculinity impugned, he eventually agrees to stay and help Leinigen and his men. They try various techniques to keep the ants at bay, including using dammed flood water, and a wall of petrol flame. They watch a springbok covered by aunts, and Leinigen has to dive into ants heroically in order to save everyone else. He will recover (somehow).
Coconut shell horses and all, it would have been nice if Leinigen and the Ants could have seen Leinigen’s men heroically find the solution while brawny but not brainy Leinigen carried out their orders.