❉ Eoghan Lyng reviews a new serial starring Rocky Horror creator Richard O’Brien and Doctor Who’s Sophie Aldred.
47 years after he created the sci-fi stage and film cult favourite ‘The Rocky Horror Show’, Richard O’Brien has taken a rare acting role to star in ‘The Barren Author’, a new six-part audio comedy-drama inspired by the fantastical stories of Baron Munchausen, his co-star is Sophie Aldred – ‘Dr Who’ companion ‘Ace’…
It’s late October, and Baron Munchausen is the tipple of the evening. The Brigadier boasts of an evening spent covering in the shadows Elton John has laid for him, enveloping himself in the confines of a story too ludicrous even for a madcap director of Terry Gilliam’s stature. And yet the story is not one woven from the very hands that brought Monty Python’s most explosive animated segues to life, but a parable that is as much Richard O Brien’s to share, as it is Paul Birch’s to write.
Producer/director Barnaby Eaton Jones (best known to We Are Cult readers as the man who re-introduced George Lazenby to the spy genre), journeys with listeners over a jaunty six part stroll into unknown soundscapes. Where Passport to Oblivion was a daringly structured wheel of deception, direction and intrigue, The Barren Author explodes into areas once thought inconceivable for the human eye to behold. Such is the esoteric nature of the material, Jones wisely comforts any preconceived concerns an audience member may hold for a conversation between two unwaveringly different characters. What begins as a wholesome tribute to the eighteenth-century nobleman soon quickly develops into something more commonly read in an Anne Rice novel, as historian and historia re-enact the terrible events of a near missed folklore.
Playing the part of questioner comes Sophie Aldred (after O’Brien, the drama’s only cast member), querying the story’s more improbable pathways with her own angular viewpoint. Opening herself up to the wonders of technology, Aldred’s character-the closest thing we have to a “normal person”-comes face to face with the very man who once rode the furious waves that cover three quarters of the beautiful planet. Cautioned by circumstance, The Brigadier essays a tale deemed too dark even for the ominous outliers of the far-reaching web searches. Mirroring the world where Zoom calls and Skype tolls ring out the final few days 2020 has offered us, the pair find themselves eagerly engaged in a dialogue echoed over the primitive necessity of video communication.
Craftsman that he is, Jones conjures a world every bit as alien to the characters, as it is to the listener, completing the tapestry with his own idiosyncratic attention to detail. O’ Brien-mellifluous in tone, timbre and texture –is tasked with many of the adventure’s meatier scenarios, thrusting himself into the voices that met the traveller on his quest to certainty. O’Brien’s having a blast, burning through passages on sycophantic sea vessels and situated power ghosts, but Aldred (whose role is often that of the spectator) is just as important to the demonstration as her companion proudly proclaims himself to be.
She stands aghast at the dazzling inventiveness that splashes through Birch’s exemplary script, cradling a scepticism not too dissimilar to our own. In time honoured tradition the wanderlust, wishfulness and wickedly exciting ensemble carries her through the torrent, audience in tow. Such is her importance to the story, Aldred proves the armour, anchor and ear to the cosmic (and frequently brilliant) performances that emanate from O’Brien’s mouth. As there is brilliance at play here, each element rippling with colour sorely missing from this drab, colourless world. Spiralling between Stoppardian to Munchausian (a new adjective, perhaps?), the audio -crisp as it is- boasts a production value every bit as sensual as the world Kate Bush once illustrated. It might not be Wuthering Heights or Babooshka, but it’s a magical world nonetheless.
❉ Written by Paul Birch, produced and directed by Barnaby Eaton-Jones, Spiteful Puppet’s ‘The Barren Author’ will be released 31 October 2020. Price: £3.99 each episode or £19.95 for all six if bought together via www.spitefulpuppet.com. Sound Design by Joseph Fox. Soundtrack by Abigail Fox. Illustration and Graphic Design by Robert Hammond.