Edinburgh Fringe Reviews: Nostalgia

Radio Active and Adam Kay's tribute to Tom Lehrer look back to a bygone era

Feature by Stu Black | 10 Aug 2016

Don’t groan – and if you did then please dodge Radio Active [★★★], a resurrected parody dating from 1979 that specialises in exactly this kind of circular wordplay. Written by Angus Deayton and the late Geoffrey Perkins, the show ran for seven years on Radio 4, making middle England chuckle between the crossword and a snifter of sherry as it parodied the now-quaint tics of early commercial radio.

There are still just enough smirks left for the oldies to enjoy as the original cast minus Perkins recreate the spirit of a live recording. The performers are charming but one note: Deayton is phlegmatic, Philip Pope nerdy, Michael Fenton-Stevens chipper and Helen Atkinson-Wood just, um, nice.

No-one has the personality to steal the show so the skits and sketches have to do the heavy lifting. Some fly – such as the opera translator who turns an aria into a slanging match. Others drag – especially the leaden Dickens spoof David Chuzzlenut. It’s the musical interludes that are the real high point, namely Boring Song by Status Quid and Meaningless Songs In Very High Voices by the Hebegeebees, the soft targets of both speaking volumes about the general absence of ambition.

Adam Kay: The Remains of Tom Lehrer, photo: Steve Ullathorne

Adam Kay [★★★] is on a more noble mission to raise awareness of the truly sparkling musical satire of Tom Lehrer. It’s a delight to hear classics such as The Masochism Tango and Poisoning Pigeons In The Park, here updated by Kay just enough to make them fresh again. Lehrer’s lyrics are both intelligent and subversive, continually needling the sensitive spot – his delicious inversion of racism in National Brotherhood Week could have been written for Donald Trump.

Kay not only barrels through a catalogue of Lehrer’s best ditties but provides context and history as he goes, though the claim he invented vodka jelly in the army is surely too good to be true. The only snag with the show is that Kay, though very engaging, is not an accomplished enough pianist to quite pull this off, and his singing occasionally veers into the sound of a spirited Christmas caroller. Nice then, but you can always Google Lehrer and get the real thing.

Radio Active, Pleasance Courtyard (One), 3-28 Aug (not 15), 4.20pm, £6-15
Adam Kay: The Remains of Tom Lehrer, Gilded Balloon Teviot (Wine Bar), 3-29 Aug (not 10, 17 & 24), 3.45pm, £6-13.50