Wireless Mystery Theatre Presents...

Wed 17th – Sat 27th August 2011

reviews

Rowan Evans

at 09:39 on 18th Aug 2011

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This is one to hear: Wireless Mystery Theatre create a convincing antique broadcast with a small PA and unusual medley of instruments. We’re crammed into a curtained niche of the Globe and the six-strong troup, confined to a tiny stage at one end, resemble a band at soundcheck more than a group of actors. After a nervous opening and shaky theramin, the sounds start to knit and it becomes clear that the performance won’t be about spectacle. Really this show is a radio play, and the whole experience kindles when early on I close my eyes and listen. The cast are mostly static and reading from scripts, but the text is well crafted and the performances animated.

First we’re wired to a corespondent in the midwest, where a supernatural gargantua is growing in small-town America. The sound of its belly full of cow blood is ‘big like the sea’; this is a well-imagined piece of gothic Americana. The main action of the tale is in realtime on All Hallows Eve, appointed hour for a necromantic spell, ‘the long call’, to dispatch an approaching evil. Some details like occult names and spells feel a little burlesque but, like any good storytelling, extravagance is carried off with momentum. Simple devices - the sound of a box lid becomes a window opened and shut to howling animals - and the whole thing rattles to life.

After some authentic if un-hilarious 40s commercials, the cast reach their element. This one’s a tale about music - a disembodied apparition of sound that haunts a guitarist in a lonely garret. Just as the earlier monster’s invisible form impressed itself on grass, now sound shifts its weight. A simple, whistled Hungarian melody becomes chilling. Accordion draws out a null groan, voices crackle white noise while a frantic guitar struggles like a caged parakeet. Floor shakes, the storyteller shivers: ‘I couldn’t stop listening to it’. Our presenter finishes by promising a new set of tales for the following night - a genuine ad for their next show, I hope. The overall effect is lo-fi, but Wireless Theatre offer sustained entertainment from a group of performers who know how to tell a tale.

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Donnchadh O'Conaill

at 11:02 on 28th Aug 2011

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Live radio theatre is a niche product, even by Fringe standards. Belfast-based Wireless Mystery Theatre avoid the more familiar route of slapstick comedy, silly sound effects, etc., by presenting suspense and horror stories. The material changes at each showing; I saw (or heard) a piece about circus sideshow freaks and a HP Lovecroft tale of ghostly music, each adapted by the group’s own Reggie Chamberlain-King.

The performers dress in period costume and brandish a formidable array of musical instruments, including an accordion, a melodian and a theremin. However, this aside they make little effort to play up the visual side of the show. The tiny stage at the Globe Bar would have severely curtailed any such attempts in any case; there was barely enough room to squeeze in eight actors/musicians. This does mean that a potential dimension of the production was set aside in favour of concentrating on the audio performances.

As it turned out, this was important in the case of the first story. The dialogue was fruity, verging on the ridiculous, but never enough to be actually funny. The script made few demands for sound effects, and the narrative wasn’t taut enough to work as a piece of suspense. Some extra energy or focus was needed, which physically grotesque performances might have been able to provide. As it was, the story drifted to its conclusion. Some genuine 1940s adverts followed; these were punchy but again the material was rarely more than diverting.

The second story was a slow burner, for a while too slow. A problem with both stories, but particularly this one, was that the group rarely used sound effects to establish a distinctive atmosphere, which is one of the great strengths of radio drama. However, towards the end, when we finally hear the music which has been tormenting the mysterious Herr Zann, the piece finally takes off in a blur of guitar chords and the mysteriously well-suited tones of accordion and theremin.

As performers, the group show a great deal of promise. Most of the dialogue was handled by Ben Maier, Bronagh McCrudden and Jack Geary, who were each more than capable of the accents and crisp pronunciation which radio drama requires; special mention must go to Maier for his impassioned narration in the second story. The musicians, when allowed to cut loose, drummed up quite a racket. With more arresting material, perhaps a stronger visual sense, and a more thorough exploration of the possibilities of creating situations through arrangements of sound, this group could make a much bigger noise.

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Comments

carmel o 'hagan; 20th Aug 2011; 14:37:44

Really enjoyed this chilling show ! Will be back tomorrow

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