Dick Barton Special Agent – Leicester Square Theatre
This spoof of the popular BBC radio series of the 1940s and 1950s (weekly listening figures of some 15 million in its heyday) is very much in the style of West End hits The 39 Steps and The Play That Goes Wrong. And therein lies the problem.
Those two productions have raised the bar to such a height for this sort of thing I fear the game is up and they really can’t be topped. And while this uneven show is gamely played by a talented young cast, the genre has possibly been taken about as far as it can go.
What we have here is actually a revival of the musical written by Phil Willmott, which was staged at the Warehouse Theatre in 1998, pre-dating Patrick Barlow’s version of The 39 Steps by seven years.
The story follows a familiar theme of intrepid agent Barton (Ryan Alexander Full) up against a dastardly Johnny foreigner intent on world domination. This time round, the evil Baron Scareheart (Billy Irving) is trying to exploit the British obsession with tea by replacing the national supplies of our favourite brew with extra-strong cannabis, aided by sultry femme fatale Marta Heartburn (Sarah Louise Greer).
It all gets a bit chaotic from there to be honest. The space simply isn’t big enough for the large cast, so sight gags don’t really work with precision and the play often can’t make up its mind whether it wants to be a spoof of the serial or a backstage farce in the style of Play or Noises Off.
Given our hero’s name, some of the gags are too tempting to resist: “Is there somewhere out there a Dick for me?” — and that was one of the highlights. By the time we got to jokes about what’s under a Scotsman’s kilt, the barrel was being well and truly scraped.
That said, a nice running gag about the mispronunciation of Putney raised a laugh and all the songs are very well performed.
In the end though it needed more discipline. The first rule of depicting chaos on stage is that it needs to be choreographed to within an inch of its life otherwise you end up with, well, chaos.
There’s undoubtedly talent there in the cast and they deserved a bit better than this.
Reviewed by Tony Peters