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Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Review: Radio Times, by Abi Grant, Noel Gay, revised by Alex Armitage, New Wolsey Theatre, until October 27.
It doesn’t take much imagination to convince yourself that you are back in the dark days of World War II. The New Wolsey’s stage has been transformed into London’s Criterion Theatre which itself has been turned into a BBC Radio Studio for the duration of the war.
This is the setting for Variety Bandwagon, comedian Sammy Shore’s weekly vehicle for boosting the nation’s morale and on this occasion for staging a pioneering transatlantic broadcast which will allow Britain to talk directly to America at the height of The Blitz.
But, for all the bad jokes, song and dance routines, backstage camaraderie, you quickly spot that all is not well in Sammy’s personal life. His personal and professional partner Olive James is increasingly unhappy playing second fiddle to Sammy’s career and an endless stream of distractions.
Radio Times is designed to recreate the flavour of those famous wartime shows like ITMA with Tommy Handley and Bandwaggon with Arthur Askey. With the exception of a few backstage scenes, the vast majority of the performance is played out as a live radio broadcast.
Although West End star Gary Wilmot and leading comedy actress Sara Crowe are billed as the stars, the strength of Radio Times is that it is very much an ensemble show. Gary and Sara are given a good run for their money by New Wolsey regular Ben Fox as Sammy’s punning partner Wilf and the multi-talented Vivien Carter (she can act, sing, dance and play the saxophone!) as radio’s sweetheart Amy Chapman.
This production got off to a slow start as the audience were a little unsure how much they were supposed to join in with the bad jokes but soon as they realised that they had a license to join in and groan in all the right places, the show really took flight. Gary Wilmot has that dazzling star quality and commanded the stage from the moment he walked on. Not only did he and Ben Fox make for a very believable double-act, his corruption of stuffy ‘jobs-worth’ BBC announcer Heathcliffe Bultitude (John Conroy) is priceless. Conroy almost steals the show.
The song and dance numbers were also extremely effective. The re-arrangement of Run Rabbit Run was clever, inventive and hugely entertaining.
Radio Times is a wonderful evocation of British pluck and this joyous celebration of our past is delivered with passion and gusto.