Writers: David Croft and Jimmy Perry
Director: Owen Lewis
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
The writing partnership of David Croft and Jimmy Perry created some of the finest and best loved British sitcoms of the last 50 years. Each show brought together a collection of hapless characters who get themselves into weekly farcical scrapes that across their output somehow united the opposing worlds of the 1970s holiday camp, a 1920s upper-class household and Second World War Burma. But David Benson and Jack Lane’s new show pays tribute to the best-loved sitcom of all, Dad’s Army.
Transferring from Edinburgh, Dad’s Army Radio Hour makes its London debut Live at Zedel, adapting three classic episodes as mini radio plays with all the roles performed by Benson and Lane. Fans of the show will appreciate this affectionate tribute not just to the writers but to the actors who created much-loved characters including Captain Mainwaring, Private Pike and Lance Corporal Jones, while those new to the scripts will appreciate their gentle humour and well-known catchphrases.
While usually actors are expected to make a role their own, the success of Dad’s Army Radio Hour lies in the vocal talents of Benson and Lane to carefully mimic the show’s well-known stars, a task they perform so well that if you close your eyes you can barely tell the difference. The radio format is also a shrewd one, giving purpose and structure to their retro show while sidestepping many of the problems of visually recreating scenes. Instead, the audience is able to hear the quality and strength of Croft and Perry’s writing, visualising the scenes for themselves with just a few of Tom Lishman’s sound effects as a guide.
Of the three episodes chosen for the radio treatment, arguably episodes one and three work slightly better than the middle choice ‘The Day the Balloon Went Up’ which relies quite heavily on visual gags which aren’t as easily replicated on radio and pushes the audience to imagine the position of a runaway barrage balloon as it becomes entangled around the church, snares the verger and hangs off a railway bridge with two members of the Home Guard attached. It’s still amusing but just a bit harder to picture.
The success of the other two choices – ‘My British Buddy’ and ‘The Deadly Attachment’ lies in their focus on characterisation which transfers extremely well to the radio format. In the first scenario, the platoon is miffed by the arrival of some American troops and there’s plenty of humour wrung from the clash of cultures, attitudes, and egos, while in the final episode (one of the most famous) the men are asked to guard a U-boat crew overnight which contains the now immortal line “Don’t tell him Pike.”
Although the scripts have been used for radio before, Benson and Lane’s show is an impressive two-hander, with each performer frequently changing characters in successive lines while maintaining their always excellent characterisation and keeping the fast pace necessary for the jokes to land in quick succession. It is a feat they manage most of the time, and while having only two actors means they are technically restricted in terms of pacing and being able to overlap voices, they convincingly play 25 characters almost with ease.
This is far more than an impressions show, and the performers utilise the radio format convincingly and consistently throughout, using a news broadcast to introduce each new scenario and demonstrating their technical skills with the microphones to indicate when characters are walking away or at a distance. This 90-minute show is a tad longer than its title suggests but Dad’s Army Radio Hour is a fond tribute to the genius of Croft and Perry, while giving a new lease of life to some of their finest creations.
Runs until: 21 January 2018 | Image: Contributed