Performed by the Basement Company
Written by Joe Landry
Directed by Lizzie Tollemache
June 10-12, 2021
Reviewed by Damian Thorne
With so much imported and touring product in Centrepoint's schedule this year, it is a treat to settle into a locally produced show from Centrepoint Junior – the Basement Company.
Having produced radio plays plentifully I know they must be a slick vehicle indeed. There can, at times, be hundreds of moving pieces with vocals, sound effects, live props, and music queues.
Tonight, we walked into a room filled with all these aspects and many more. Three static microphones up front, with a table burdened with props to stage right, even a door being opened and closed, and slammed where appropriate. Stage left had the appearance of a lounge bar with comfortable seating and live music when live music was required.
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Three plays had been chosen, and extensively condensed. Making something smaller in this way runs the risk of removing the parts that made it great. Here it was like removing Hitchcock himself. You could say we were left with general business – such as paying accounts; deciding which lettuce variety to purchase; and refunding tickets.
With the help of a perky narrator the mundane became action, and we allowed ourselves to be carried along by the whirring activity of the props table. At times I struggled to follow the goings on, even in The 39 Steps, the most famous of the selection, and a play I have seen in London.
Some cleverness occurred in the two breaks between the titles where were treated to live radio advertising complete with jingles and terrific harmonies. Of particular mention was the advert for Bates Motel including reference to wall linings, parking out front and, of course, Norman's mother.
The overall tone of the evening was that of humour, and traditionally a radio play should sit in the genre of comedy. Does Alfred Hitchcock do comedy? He certainly laces his work with dark humour, but it is never thematic. While looking great on paper, and containing some compelling material, is the work of Hitchcock actually suitable for radio serialisation? It is lovely to walk out of a theatre with such questions to discuss on the car journey home.
The Basement Company certainly has the necessary aspects of good stage craft – they all had chemistry in spades, and know how to make something entertaining, even in places when it wasn't. I would love to single individuals out for a mention, but in an extraordinary own goal Centrepoint did not produce a programme for this attraction. So, I'll say well done to all involved.