Alan Bennett is a scary motherfucker – he hijacks the sound system, the lights dim and his distinctive voice pervades the cavernous stage haunting the performers and filling them with dread. The Monks of Umami are brought together to pay tribute to a comedy show first heard in the 1950s basement of Radio Stoke. Alan Bennett is obviously not a fan of revisiting these memories. Radiodyssey is constantly plagued by the mention of the dreaded northern playwright. Comedy sketch artists Thom Jordan, Elliot Hall and Jordan Dunbar have no choice but to soldier on.
The sketches themselves have a variety of inspirations and tip a hidden hat to some classic British troupes over the years. Monty Python, the Carry On franchise, even Absolutely Fabulous, whether intentionally or not can be seen in a number of the acts that ultimately hit with varying degrees of success. From the fantastical to the downright dirty, the three performers draw up a plethora of topics and exhibit creativity not only in the initial conception but in the overall arc that links disparate sets of events together.
It would be easy to dismiss the show as a work in progress given that the acts are all laden down with scripts that are clearly highlighted and used as a crutch throughout the show. But then we remember that the whole idea behind this is as a radio piece – in some ways it’s better to shut your eyes and imagine the characters that the three so adeptly portray. By shutting out the visual, it is obvious to hear that the biggest asset all three performers have is their variety of convincing, comical and overly expressive set of impressions. With eyes open there feels a clunkiness to the transitions, an awkward and under rehearsed look that comes across unnatural and at times stilted. But the cleverest parts of this show are in the sounds and these come alive with eyes wide shut. Suddenly innuendos jump out and hit you between the ears, the segues seem much slicker by using different sound effects to paint a picture in your mind’s eye. The acting, whilst competent, is ultimately best experienced by appreciating the difference it makes to the vocal performance of each of the three impressionists on stage.
Dunbar has the widest repertoire – jumping back and forth between accents seem easy to him yet is a difficult trait to master. Hall’s performance is well-spoken and clear – he plays the posh toff most effectively, a newsreader with enunciation and inflection. Jordan is the performer that captivates most when you open your eyes – the way he seductively munches on the banana is pure sex on legs. A well complemented trio (or is it a quarter?) that deliver a pleasant and competent show.