The words "radio play" conjure up images of families in the days before television gathered around the wireless to listen to the latest episode of Dad and Dave, but believe it or not the medium is still alive and well today.
There are top quality productions still being made with great actors and some of them will, to put it bluntly, make you laugh until you pee. The following are five of my favourites:
The Mighty Boosh
You may have seen the television series of this one, but the radio show is even better because, since they don't have to worry about the things they invent actually being physically possible, they can do even more bizarre things. Zoo keepers Howard Moon (Julian Barratt) and Vince Noir (Noel Fielding, of The I.T. Crowd and Never Mind the Buzzcocks) work at the failing zoo Bob Fossil's Funworld. Together they fend off thieves kidnapping their animals, tend to a shrimp with "eyes like black fists punching into your soul", compete in a porpoise race, commune with the Spirit of Jazz and go on a quest to the arctic to find a snow leopard. The absurdist humour is similar to that of the classic Goon Show. The cd set of the series includes an interview with Barratt and Fielding and some out-takes that were a little too weird and wrong to go in the show, which is really saying something.
MJN Air is a struggling airline with only one elderly plane, nicknamed Gertie. The business is just barely kept afloat by the ingenuity of the the unscrupulous first officer Douglas (Roger Allan) and the crafty old CEO and hostess Carolyn Knapp-Shappey (Stephanie Cole). The rest of the crew is comprised of Carolyn's halfwit son Arthur (John Finnemore of Mitchell and Webb, who is also the writer) and Martin, the captain (Benedict Cumberbatch, of Sherlock fame), who is so desperate to fly that he does his job for free. If you're anything like me you will giggle at the various silly games the crew play to allay the terrible boredom of international flights and learn interesting pieces of trivia such as how to steal expensive whiskey without getting caught and how many otters can fit into a passenger jet.
There are three seasons of the show available on cd or for download plus a hilarious Christmas special from 2010, which will forever make me think of a certain Christmas Carol as "Get Dressed You Merry Gentlemen!".
Bleak Expectations is the memoirs of Pip Bin (Tom Allen), whose father invented the bin, who embarks on various adventures with the aid of his sister, Pippa and his childhood friend Harry Biscuit, whose father invented the biscuit. Pip's life is made miserable by the fiendish and ironically named villain Gently Benevolent (Anthony Head) and his henchmen, the six Hardthrasher brothers (all played by Geoffrey Whitehead). The series starts out as a parody of Dickens but in later seasons it goes on to also parody other Victorian literature such as Robert Louis Stevenson and H.G. Wells. It is as bizarre as The Mighty Boosh, featuring gigantic engineering projects built entirely of cheese, swans used as a means of propulsion, demons, cowboys and lots and lots of cake. There are four seasons available on cd or as mp3s for download.
Old Harry's Game
When Thomas, former head of a privatised water company, is killed in a car accident he finds himself in Hell. There he meets Satan himself, as well as his second in command, Scumspawn, various damned souls such as the Emperor Hirohito, Edith Piath and the Professor (James Grout), who doesn't believe that anything he is experiencing is really happening.
The Professor quickly becomes a pet project of the bored, world weary devil who tries to destroy his conviction that all humans are basically good. The humour is often topical, focusing on events in Britain, but as an Australian I still found plenty to laugh at. There is a bit more toilet humour in this one but that's fine in moderation.There have been seven seasons so far, plus a Christmas special and an Olympics special from July 2012.
Successful fantasy author Sam Porter (Stephen Mangan) is giving a talk at a book signing when he is interrupted by a group of people in strange costumes who tell him they have come from for the Chosen One. The Chosen One is not Sam himself but his dog, Amis (Dave Lamb). Sam and Amis are sucked through a portal into Lower Earth where they join a brave band of adventurers on a quest to retrieve a magical sword to stop the evil Lord Darkness (Alistair McGowan) from taking over the kingdom.
Once in Lower Earth Amis takes on human form and is very excited to be allowed on the furniture. He agrees to go on the the quest immediately. Sam goes along grudgingly, in part because he is smitten with the elvish warrior maiden Pentheselea (Sophie Winkleman), though she is betrothed to the dimwitted Lord Vidar (Darren Boyd). It's a bit of silly fun which will particularly appeal to fantasy fans. There are two seasons available on mp3.