As a lover of both radio plays and fringe theatre, my expectations going into Bullet: A Superhero Comedy are high. On at the Arts House as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival 2011, this zippy, fun-loving comic-strip-of-a-show tells the tale of Bullet, a modern day superhero who loses his superpowers and faces inevitable struggles against various forces of evil. Split into six episodes, which the bubbly cast churn out one after the other, Bullet sits very much within the comic genre. In fact, the program itself is a comic book cover, which did make me wonder how niche the show would be. Billed as a live-read radio play about the true meaning of the word hero, Bullet sounds playful and cheesy, which it most certainly is. It's also very, very funny. And silly. But what really intrigues (and, at times, confuses) is the unique packaging of the show.
Being an amalgamation of radio and theatre, Bullet offers a quirky glimpse 'behind the scenes' of live voice acting – an opportunity we rarely get nowadays. Just like in the good old days when audiences could attend live broadcastings of radio plays, we are privy to the facial expressions, physical gestures and page-turning of scripts that go on behind the microphones. We get to see what we would normally only hear with such a format. Yet, with the actors seated behind music stands and dressed in black, it is hard, at times, not to see the show as a mere rehearsed play reading. This is particularly the case when the actors occasionally fumble over their lines or make errors in timing, giving the otherwise slick performance a slight level of casualness. Perhaps this is part of the raw charm, though the audience member next to me muttered that it was lazy that the actors were looking down at scripts the whole time. But, surely this is part of the point of presenting the piece as a radio play, where actors do usually read from scripts when recording live. In any case, the amazing sound design (Risk Sound) certainly saves the day on this front. Cleverly-inserted pings, boings, explosions and robot crunches keep us on track if the break-neck speed plot has us confused.
Whilst the fast-paced banter is relentless and in need of a change-up, the most engaging aspect of Bullet has got to be all those crazy character voices. If the cropping up of more and more forces of evil (which Bullet predictably overcomes) gets a bit much, the colour and texture of the voices alone is worth the ride. Everything is thrown into the mix, from a grizzly Russian bear, an uptight, self-referential Critic, a rasping Brooklyn narrator, a squealing Cockney maid, a doped-up Californian surfer dude, to a throaty Southern cowboy who sounds like everyone's favourite Uncle. The talent on display is wild and fun. Of particular vocal dexterity are the hilarious Nicholas Barker-Pendree and the nifty Simon J. Green. Indeed, the witty writing (Sean Fabri and Simon J. Green) is any voice actor's gift and the comic timing is, on the whole, sharp, with director Ben McEwing throwing in some delightful physical choreography at just the right moments.
If I had one sentence to sum up "Bullet: A Superhero Comedy" I would say it is "Batman" meets "Carry On." Is it a spoof? Is it straight? Only one way to find out. Go along and see for yourself.