I’ve always had a soft spot for Dick Barton, Special Agent: it was one of the series from the 1950s (along with Quatermass) that made a real impression on my mother, who would talk about her and her brothers making sure that they caught each episode religiously. Dick and his chums, Jock Anderson and Snowy White, had more bullets fired at them, explosions set off around them, and narrow escapes in one story than Jack Bauer had during a whole season of 24 – as this recreation of a 1951 script (reworked into a two-act format, and losing a few pejorative lines, I suspect), performed in front of a live audience, shows.
Quite sensibly, it’s played absolutely straight, even if the accents are… shall we say, a little pronounced. The Archers’ Tim Bentinck makes a solid and upright Captain Barton (I’m going to avoid the obvious jokes), with Terry Molloy’s Snowy and Nick Scovell’s Jock the dependable companions, who continue to fight the good fight despite getting regular knocks to the napper from the devilish fiends played by Barnaby Edwards and David Benson. Lisa Bowerman gets all the female roles (ok, both the female roles) and is suitably jeopardised or eager to enter the fray as appropriate.
Rob Thrush’s direction from Charles Norton’s adaptation of the original scripts by B.D. Chapman hardly allows anyone to catch their breath, and of course, there’s a cliffhanger with suitably worried voiceover… and a reprise which cheats! The sound effects were all played in live – as the accompanying tracks of behind the scenes and bloopers make clear – as was the music.
While the attempted TV version in the late 1970s didn’t really click with audiences (one of those series that I remember as being much better than it actually was, on revisiting on DVD, sadly), this sort of live performance is a great way to keep Captain Barton and his friends in action. Nazis on an iceberg in the Thames, you say? When’s our next date with Dick?
Verdict: A thoroughly excellent entertainment. 8/10