It’s official; we have now reached the zenith of the ‘Radio 4 joke’ – a joke so high-brow that only a handful of a crowd of keen Radio 4 listeners let out a knowing chuckle at the Storyhouse in Chester.
It was some sort of play on words between composer Erik Satie’s ‘Gymnopédie’ and Radio 4 presenter Jim Naughtie, but you had to be there, I guess.
This is the sort of material you might expect from Wireless Wise – a celebration of the comedy, music and history of one of the BBC’s most esteemed radio stations, hosted by current and ex-presenters.
Among them was comedian Reverend Richard Coles; presenter Garry ‘And Here’s Garry With the Sport’ Richardson; newsreader Charlotte Green; and impressionist Alistair McGowan, who stole the show in terms of laughs with his on-point imitations from a slurring Alan Bennett to a bumbling Boris Johnson.
Chester was the show’s first outing to ‘the North’ on September 22, though it will arrive at The Lowry in Manchester on October 13.
The hosts put on a real treat for frequent radio listeners with funny, gripping stories of broadcasting life including interviews with Bill Clinton and coverage of the Olympics.
That said, the show makes some effort to appeal to more than just the typical Radio 4 listener. There is a lot there for sports fans thanks to Richardson’s veteran sports coverage experience and stories, and a broad audience will find something to like in the show’s witty quips, silly moments and Pythonesque song-writing.
Yes, the majority of the audience were white and over 50, though whether this reflects more upon Chester than on Wireless Wise is hard to say.
In any case, the crowd certainly steeled over a little when the topic of Brexit was approached on stage – as to be expected from that particular age demographic – and McGowan’s observation that the ‘leave’ vote was largely immigration-based resulted in some unsettled grumbling from the back.
Any tension was quickly eroded by the end, though, as each host took it in turns to regale the audience with a performance or anecdote of their own.
The Storyhouse venue itself is a little triumph in design. It’s just a great place to be and the main foyer consists of a sort of wine bar, library, and vegan-friendly restaurant combo dripping with student appeal.
The main theatre itself is medium-sized – seating either 500 or 800 depending on its layout. The seats aren’t raised particularly high, however, so it’s easy to have one’s view obstructed by a person sitting in front.
At £26.50 a ticket, Wireless Wise is neither here nor there in terms of value for money. Ultimately though, the show is good-natured, charming and interesting.
It certainly has some Radio 4 exclusivity to it, but at the same time it’s unlikely to alienate viewers.
Image courtesy of @RevRichardColes via Twitter, with thanks.