What a thoroughly entertaining experience this was. Set in the delightful Chapel Hill winery, with the full-house audience seated at tables, cabaret-style, the audience at the one-only performance, was kept amused and enchanted. Director and co-author Warren McKenzie gave us three separate but linked mysteries which were were entirely true to their radio play inspiration. He had cast well, with most actors carrying several roles during the evening. The scripts, co-written by Carli Stasinopoulos, had humour, pathos and definite mystery.
The overall title, The Mystic Dr Drake, hints at the underlying otherworldliness of some aspects of the scripts. This Dr Drake is indeed mystic. Stuart Pearce played Drake with skill and style. Mostly the straight-man, the character occasionally dipped into the supernatural which was at times amusing and at others, chilling. As with all of the performers, Pearce mastered the old-style radio plays’ genre and form. And, along with the others, he kept us interested and entertained while essentially standing at the upright microphone, and delivering his lines with energy and critical timing.
Julie Quick, playing New York reporter Lois Hanley, encountered Drake in the first episode, Murder By Poison and there established herself as his partner in criminal investigation. In that and the following two episodes, Quick used her stage experience to very good effect. Her Lois was credible, sensible and empathetic, and she complemented both others’ performances and the developing narratives in a natural and well-paced way.
Ben Todd as splendid in a variety of roles. As Frank The Shark in the first script, he was entertaining, as he was in the other roles, but was extraordinary in A Nose For Murder where he played the conniving Dr Alfred Ophidian, complete with well-sustained energy and convincing European accent.
Notable in their various roles were Penni Hamilton-Smith, whose utterly evil and demonstrative Arsenic Agatha was something to behold; Laura Antoniazzi, who showed her style and versatility, especially as Lucy Lewis in the final piece, The Haunted Theatre, and Jackson Barnard who was lively and convincing in all his roles, and especially so as the Irish policeman Shamus and the dodgy Matson Hassinger.
Keeping a sense of unity for all three episodes was Aled Proeve as the chirpy, irrepressible announcer. His introductions and conclusions to each of the pieces were entirely authentic, and took some of us right back to the Golden Age of radio entertainment. Also, his occasional advertisement breaks were wonderul. They were, as the director pointed out at the end, real ads from that time, recalling 5 cent bottles of Coca Cola, Bust Enhancers and Arsenic Pads for the complexion!
Framing the whole production were the subtle and mood-enhancing musical accompaniment of Anthea Trevelyan on keyboard and the timely studio sound effects of Kaitlyn McKenzie and Mikayla Bishop. All this was smoothly managed by the experienced sound technician Richard Parkhill.
These scripts truly evoked that time when radio was at the heart of the home, when listening was more important than seeing. Radio, especially radio plays, provoked our imaginations in a unique way. Without such revivals as this, the delight it brought may well be lost. The buzz of reminiscence in the intervals, and afterwards, was testament to Radio Noir’s success, and points to a promising future.