January 14, 2011 8:12 pm

Barbershopera: Apocalypse No!; The Fitzrovia Radio Hour, Trafalgar Studio 2

 Alex Ratcliffe (left) and Alix Dunmore in ‘The Fitzrovia Radio Hour’

Two somewhat belated London “transfers” of Edinburgh Fringe shows are now on offer in separate houses in the smaller of the Trafalgar Studios. The Barbershopera company’s shtick is now well established: they do a cappella musical comedy thrillers. Yet this year’s offering is a departure to a degree.

Barbershopera mark 1 told the tale of a company competing in the world barbershop quartet championships; its follow-up, The Barber Of Shavingham, centred on a matador inheriting a barber shop in Norfolk. In each case, the story grew more or less organically out of the form. Apocalypse No!, however, concerns a put-upon primary schoolteacher’s attempts to stave off the Eschaton, having teamed up through a misunderstanding with three of the Four Horsemen so that the quartet now consists of War, Famine, Pestilence and Beth.

It bowls along in a cheap ’n’ cheerful, musically adept way, but form and content feel quite incidental to each other now, especially given composers Rob Castell and Tom Sadler’s fondness here for Latin rhythms and Temptations-style Motown numbers. I can understand their desire to cast their narrative net wider, but the risk is that the whole enterprise comes off as just another novelty.

2 star rating

In the second-house show, The Fitzrovia Radio Hour makes a better fist of things. Also potentially a one-trick pony – in this case, a pastiche 1940s radio broadcast including a number of episodic thrillers plus commercials – the Fitzrovia company’s potential for serial reinvention (no pun intended) is greater, since they need only fashion 10 minutes or so at a stretch of ripping yarns such as The Undead Queen Of Evil! and He Should Have Known His Place.

The company of five circulate in formal dress around old-fashioned stand-up microphones, delivering lines in cut-glass antique BBC accents. No opportunity for period camp passes unfondled; the commercials are especially fecund, though also especially anachronistic since the first advertisement was not heard on British radio until the mid-1960s. The overall result is an appealing hybrid of the radio-on-stage format of the Round The Horne . . . Revisited show from several years ago and comedian Harry Enfield’s “Mr Cholmondley-Warner” parodies.

3 star rating


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