A Leap In The Dark – a witty retelling of the BBC’s first radio play sprinkled with New Vic charm

For many of us, the radio is a larger part of our lives than we might initially think. For some, it conjures childhood memories of a time before TVs were commonplace in the home, while for others it’s the soundtrack to their drive home from work, or a friendly voice in an otherwise empty home. 

Making its stage debut at the New Vic theatre this month, A Leap In The Dark celebrates the centenary of the UK’s first ever radio play being broadcast on the BBC – with press night held on World Radio Day, no less.

Set against the backdrop of developing radio broadcasting in the early 1920s, the play follows the ambitious Cedric Maud and his assistant Grace Gumby as they endeavour to come up with a new form of entertainment for the masses in a bid to flog more radios for Lady Hartley. Believing a play performed specially for the wireless could be just the ticket, they enlist the expertise of an avant-garde director with a penchant for marmalade, and an unconventional new-age writer – and so begins a series of comedic misadventures, including getting locked in cellars, handcuffed to tables and diagnosed with a regional accent syndrome.

Andrew Billington

Originally commissioned by BBC Radio Four, the comedy caper – written by Emmy award-winning writer Ron Hutchinson – features a cast of familiar faces to the Staffordshire theatre, including Suzanne Ahmet (Marvellous) as Mrs Playfair, Andrew Pollard (Around the World in 80 Days) as Nigel Playfair, and Perry Moore (Tom, Dick and Harry) as Cedric Maud.

Though in true New Vic style, many of the eight-strong cast play multiple convincing roles – so persuasive, in fact, that I had to keep double checking my programme, with Madeleine Lesley in particular doing a wonderful job at reinventing herself as Rita Hartley, Madge, a Danish actress, a bookseller and journalist throughout the night.

Suzanne Ahmet shines as May Playfair, her New York mob wife alter-ego entirely unrelated to the narrative, but the silliness it injected into this almost-true story was a stroke of genius and made for some memorable moments.

Andrew Billington

Meanwhile, Angela Bain deftly navigates dual roles as battleaxe Lady Hartley and the slightly ditzy Mrs. Stanley, with Ben Norris making his New Vic debut and fast becoming an audience favourite as he flitted between the peculiar playwright Richard Hughes, and the typical cockney West End actor, Hector. 

One particular scene saw Hector, Jimmy (Robert Pickavance) and their agent (another of Madeleine’s characters) in a series of back and forth telephone conversations. The satire is razor-sharp – so simple yet utterly hilarious, particularly as Jimmy becomes more and more intoxicated at The Dog and Duck as the scene progresses, handing the phone instead of his pint to an accidental audience volunteer.

Andrew Billington

Energetic, innovative and sprinkled with the New Vic charm that made Marvellous and Astley’s Astounding Adventure’s such a success, A Leap In The Dark does a wonderful job at shining a light on how radio plays came to be. The scenes depicting the live airing of A Comedy of Dangers (which really was the BBC’s first aired play), were skillfully executed with the perfect amount of chaos, potato props and inventive sound effects, but still beautifully delivered the heart of the story in a way that felt really insightful and informed.

From a script brimming with wit and charm, to an outstanding cast and historically revolutionary storyline, A Leap In The Dark runs from Friday, February 9 to Saturday, March 2, and is every bit as zesty and satisfying as Nigel Playfair’s legendary Fortnum’s-sold marmalade recipe.


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