Event Review: ‘Radio Days – The Golden Age of Wireless’ by Theatre Workshop Coulsdon

By - Thursday 26th March, 2015

John Gass finds a bit of a curate’s egg, but still has an enjoyable night out

Coulsdon Community Centre, Chipstead Valley Road, Coulsdon, Surrey CR5 3BE

Time from East Croydon  26 mins by 166 

Saturday 21st March – Sunday 22nd March, Thursday 26th March – Sunday 29th March.
All performances at 8:00 pm.

Tickets £9, concessions £6

The cast.
Photo author’s own.

Having enjoyed Theatre Workshop Coulsdon’s previous production of The Producers, I signed up for news of future projects. Normally I prefer to attend a show close to the final night so the cast and crew have time to find their feet but, on this occasion, I opted for the first night so that I could write this review for the Citizen.

Aldo Piscina.
Photo author’s own.

The theme of the evening was chosen to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the BBC Light Programme, which took to the airwaves in 1945. As such, it promised us light entertainment in the form of eight pieces mixing melodrama and comedy, linked together with live performances of music from the 1940s and ’50s. So nostalgia for some but, with the advent of BBC Radio 4 Extra which re-broadcasts a wealth of gems from the BBC archives, an evening promising fun for all.

On arriving at the theatre, I received the same warm welcome that greeted me last time and my ticket was efficiently logged by a very junior member of the front of house team – it’s nice to see that the next generation is already being trained! I chose my seat and sat down to read through the beautifully designed programme (and here a note to the lighting crew – keeping the house lights low certainly adds to the ambience, but it does make reading the programme a bit of a struggle!).

This is a theatre company which refuses to play it safe!

Printed to resemble an old copy of the Radio Times, the programme notes also pointed out that most of the show had been written by the theatre company, with several writer/directors making their debut. This is a theatre company which refuses to play it safe!

Luke Argles at the sound effects desk.
Photo author’s own.

The set designers and constructors had, once again, produced a very convincing setting which perfectly caught the feel of an old wireless studio. Radio presenters were in dinner jackets and evening dresses too – it takes a lot of effort to achieve this level of professionalism.

The show opened with a rendition of Ain’t Misbehavin’ – a perfect mood-setter, ably sung to the accompaniment of the ‘BBC Very Light Orchestra’; a great name for the trio of musicians of high standard who certainly helped to move the show along.

Some great performances and an enjoyable evening

The concept of the show is, in my view, both splendid and original, but it does create certain challenges which would not be present in a more traditional play. One danger is that any show consisting of eight separate pieces might come across as being fractured rather than a coherent whole. One act play evenings avoid this by completely separating performances, but here the intention was to provide a continuous flow, with one piece running into the next, linked by a song and on-stage background action. This, in my view, didn’t always work and I found myself having to pay closer-than-usual attention to make the mental jump between the separate broadcasts that each item represented. Perhaps, in addition to the individual directors responsible for each piece, it would have paid to have an over-arching ‘executive’ director.

Eleanor Bowie and Michael Brown.
Photo author’s own.

Another challenge facing the performers is to appear to be reading from the scripts they are holding whilst actually delivering their lines in a convincing, lively manner. I enjoy attending BBC radio recordings – I recommend them as a great, and free, evening out – so I am familiar with the way this works and, whilst the cast had the method down to a tee, I couldn’t help feeling that some were still too reliant on the printed pages in front of them. Knowing the calibre of this theatre company, I suspect that a slightly temperamental sound system, along with first-night nerves were to blame, but it did slow things down a tad. Having said that, there were still some great performances and more than enough to make for an enjoyable evening.

I greatly prefer TWC’s creativity and flair to bland uniformity

I’m aware that I’ve avoided naming individual performers, particularly those I could easily single out for praise but, given that this was opening night and a celebration of the company’s emerging talents, I think it would, on this occasion, be invidious to do so. But it would be remiss of me to not report that the evening builds to a great conclusion with the gloriously deranged Murder at Monford Manor – A Harrison Harrison Mystery, followed by a rendition of Les Barker’s hilariously inventive and slightly surreal The Shipping Forecast.

So, a few rough edges, but a show which has great promise, brought to us by an inventive, enthusiastic and highly professional company. I’m trying to think how best to phrase my final summation: I think it’s like judging a top restaurant against a chain carvery. Whatever slight reservations I have, I’m judging to a very high standard and know I’ll always prefer flair, creativity and pushing boundaries to reliable, often bland, uniformity. Theatre Workshop Coulsdon eschews playing it safe and I applaud them for this. And yes, I am already looking forward to their summer production – Much Ado About Nothing, to be performed in an open-air setting at the Coulsdon Manor Hotel. See you there!

You can book tickets on the TWC website or by emailing the .

John Gass

John Gass

John is the Croydon Citizen's first associate editor, assisting Liz Sheppard-Jones in preparing articles for publication. His interests lie mainly with politics, culture and the arts. He has been a Croydon resident for ten years and, following a period of severe cut-backs, is delighted to see that the local arts and culture scene is starting to thrive and grow again.

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