For many of us around in the 1970s onwards, the name of Richard O’Brien is enough to raise a smile for two reasons. One as the creator of The Rocky Horror Show, in which he introduced us to ‘The Timewarp’, and two, as the lively host of TV’s The Crystal Maze.
Now, at the ripe old age of 78, he returns like a welcome glass of fine wine to take centre stage in the six-part audio piece, The Barren Author. Written by Paul Birch from a treatment by director/producer Barnaby Eaton-Jones, it is inspired by the stories of arch-fantasist and storyteller Baron Munchausen.
The basic premise of The Barren Author is a series of video calls between ‘The Brigadier’ (O’Brien) and an editor for Random House, Smith (Sophie Aldred). In true Munchausen style, the Brigadier’s sprawling memoirs get more and more absurd with each episode.
As well as bringing a lot of his own public character to the piece, O’Brien proves an amusing and versatile unreliable narrator, and Birch’s writing brings back memories of the work of Vivian Stanshall and Douglas Adams for radio, by way of Spike Milligan and the films of Terry Gilliam.
Aldred’s role is very minor, really just interjecting where the audience cannot, coaxing out stories and expressing incredulity at stories of espionage, heists, and exploration. This is O’Brien’s show, and he shines throughout with unbounded energy, growing old (dis)gracefully and gleefully throwing out waspish comments about public figures of his time.
The Barren Author has episodes of slightly varying lengths – the longest nearly 30 minutes, the shortest 22 minutes. There are pockets of amusement dotted throughout, but I especially liked the musical treat at the end of episode two. Although an audio piece, the work of Birch and Eaton-Jones is very visual and descriptive, as colourful as the Baron’s tall tales.
With sound design by Joseph Fox and music by Abigail Fox, this production is slickly produced and utterly involving. Although this may have worked better as five episodes – I felt it lost a bit of momentum towards the end – The Barren Author is ultimately a treat for those who appreciate the references, tone, and performer.
You can purchase The Barren Author as individual episodes for £3.99 each, or all six together for £19.95 by visiting www.spitefulpuppet.com.