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The Barren Author

As a teller of tall tales since 1785, Baron Munchausen is beyond renown. The exploits of this fictious German have delighted audiences for centuries and even led to the naming of a medical condition both real and by proxy.

This kind of random association is at the heart of six joyous audio episodes of “The Barren Author” by Paul Birch. Munchausen is now a Brigadier played by Richard O’Brien – yes, that Richard O’Brien. He relates his daring exploits and unlikely escapes in a series of video calls to Smith (Sophie Aldred – yes, that Sophie Aldred). Is Smith a publisher, psychiatrist or out to steal elixir? Who knows, and, frankly, does it matter?

There cannot be a better pair to bring Birch’s writing to life. Fans of “The Crystal Maze” will remember O’Brien’s wonderous instinct for fading into another world, diving down a hazy side-track for a few moments before emerging comedically victorious back into the game. Here, he repeats the feat in a manner that will make you wonder just how much of the original script survived the recording process.

This near impossible presentation, as any comedy aficionado will confirm, is both rare and impressive. Best of all, it is hilarious in a timeless classic “The Goon Show” way. You can almost hear Harry, Peter, Spike and the team cheering the Brigadier on as he faces death and many fates considerably worse, including a man called Steeve.

Aldred is the perfect foil. Her own lengthy professional career equips her with the ability to react equally forcefully to an enormous central performance. Without her authoritative stance, the Brigadier’s boasts would grow increasingly tedious, passing dully unchallenged.

Instead, Aldred not only speaks up for us listeners as the antics spiral ever further from reality but also sets us wondering about her real motives. Birch has given us sub-plots without needing to write overtly and director Barnaby Eaton-Jones has the good sense to let both actors play them without restraint.

This listener had intended to ration the six episodes over a week. That they were devoured in two afternoons (and only then because proper work intervened) says it all.

‘The Barren Author’ is available to the public at at just £3.99 per episode or £19.95 for all 6 if bought together – which you should.

The final episode hints that more may be forthcoming if there is a demand. There really must be. It is one literally unbelievable online series that the BBC should be kicking itself for not commissioning.

5 stars.


Graphic credit: Robert Hammond.

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