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THE FITZROVIA RADIO HOUR'S 'A CHRISTMAS CAROL'

Published by: Elaine Pinkus on 10th Dec 2017 | View all blogs by Elaine Pinkus

The Fitzrovia Radio Hour’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL

Adapted from Charles Dickens by Tom Mallaburn with Jon Edgley Bond Directed by Owen Lewis playing at the Paradiso Spiegeltent, Leicester Square

Nestling in the centre of Leicester Square is the Paradiso Spiegeltent theatre, similar in layout to a circus tent where visitors access the main auditorium by walking through a large bar area. Seats are not numbered. My advice, get there early so that you can be sure to grab a decent seat with a good view of the stage, the props and the impeccably attired cast, who are suitably dressed in formal evening suit with bow ties and elegant cocktail dresses.  

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Samuel Collings, Alix Dunmore, William Findley and Dorothea Myer-Bennett

My husband, who is a keen supporter of the National Theatre of Brent, was very excited to be accompanying me to this review. Those of you familiar with that radio drama will be aware of the format, which is very similar to that of the Fitzrovia Radio Hour. Others who have enjoyed the theatre frolics and capers of productions such as ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ will be anticipating fun and high jinks. The promise that awaits is enticing. The stage is laid out with a myriad of accessories, ranging from washboards, cereal packets and rubber gloves as the source of the sound effects; there are microphones and general clutter on stage suggesting potential chaos and cue boards inviting the audience to cheer, applaud and make strange noises. Reminiscent of bygone days this takes us back to those times where audiences would sit glued to their wireless sets and tune in to the current comedy and theatre played over the airwaves.

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With plum 1940s accents and reflecting the attitudes of the time, our five actors take to the stage to deliver their classic literary adaptation of Dickens A Christmas Carol. But of course there are issues here and we are told at the onset by the ambitious and dastardly Ernest Andrew that the Fitzrovia Radio Hour cast have had to relocate to this rather noisy tent after a tragic and suspicious accident befell their lead, Stanley de Pfeffel, at the Wyndham Theatre where the scenery from The Importance of Being Ernest collapsed on top of him. Now it so happens that Ernest had yearned for the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, having played Tiny Tim for the last 18 years and is clearly delighted at this opportunity. Valiantly putting his best foot forward he will rise to the occasion in this tented venue, situated in the heart of Dickensian London and where ‘pickpockets, prostitutes and suchlike’ in the nearby streets add to the authenticity of the time. Ironically his humorous apologies for the noise from the proximity of revellers in Leicester Square’s winter wonderland are in fact what mars this performance. The external noise did intrude and in some cases prevented the audience from appreciating the sound effects which were overcome by the volume.  

The retelling of the story was delivered in best English Received Pronunciation by the excellent troupe of Samuel Collings, Alix Dunmore, William Findley, Dorothea Myer-Bennell and Michael Lumsden. Each consonant was exaggerated and rang comically through the hall with words such as chris – t – mas! In true tradition, this festive tale was related, with its ghosts and spirits supported by the crunching of cereal bags (to denote fires). And of course, there was the constant reference to their sponsor: a gin brand, their Christmas friend. But it was in the ‘intermissions’ that the chaos was exposed, with excellent comic timing. Resentment by the cast towards Ernest, opportunist flirting between Vanity Fair and Beau Belles and innuendo a’plenty - all of which raised many a chuckle in the audience.

But, somehow the laugh out loud responses were not there. Was it the noise that infused the tent from the local Leicester Square crowd, or was it the extreme heat inside the theatre?  We had so wanted to love it. This is a group with a noted track record whose past productions have been heralded and who hold a regular spot at London’s Globe Theatre. Certainly the jokes were there, the premise was just right, the content had been well considered and the characterisation was spot on. And yet ... Audience reaction is so important in a production such as this and I am sure the cast will have been a little disappointed. I suspect that the sound may need to be adapted and the thermostat lowered so that future audiences can really enjoy themselves and laugh out loud.

So bah humbug to those who were sidetracked and distracted and in true festive tradition (and in keeping with Tiny Tim): A merry Christmas to us all: God bless us everyone, and here’s hoping that future performances of this delicious festive broadcast will be appreciated more.

Photography: Geraint Lewis

A CHRISTMAS CAROL

Friday 8 December – Saturday 30 December 2017 (full schedule below)

The Paradiso Spiegeltent, Christmas at Leicester Square, London WC2H 7DE

Running time 75 minutes without interval – Age guidance 12+

Tickets: 8, 9, 10 December -  £20 
13, 15, 20, 21, 27, 28, 29, 30 Dec - £25

16, 17, 22, 23, 24 December - £27.50

All performances at 3.30pm except 24 December 2.00pm

​Concessions £1.50 off all prices / Family deal: £10 off 4 tickets

 

Box Office 0333 344 4167 / Book online at www.christmasinleicestersquare.com  

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