If The Buggles can be considered as a reliable narrator (and who’s to say they aren’t?), then it would appear video killed the radio star. Of course, in an age of near-infinite podcasts, you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Yet radio is still not the dominant medium it once was.
Back in the day, when TV was just barely beyond that faint glimmer in Logie Baird’s (or Marconi’s) eye, families would gather round their wirelesses and crystal sets, and thrill to the exploits and gripping adventures on radio featuring the likes of The Lone Ranger, Tarzan, The Shadow, Superman, Doc Savage, Dick Tracy, and many more rugged and intrepid heroes. Gunfights, fisticuffs, derring-do: these happened to be de rigeur here, only the pictures were better.
A welcome throwback to those halcyon radio days comes in the form of AUK Studios’ brand new comedy drama vehicle, Supermind. Devised, co-written, produced and directed by Barnaby Eaton-Jones, Supermind happens to be the tale of Art Hardwicke (Colin McFarlane), mentalist extraordinaire, who does an act under the stage name ‘Supermind’, where he astounds audiences nightly with feats of mind reading; however, these are no mere parlour tricks on his part, as his gifts are very real, not to mention remarkable.
Ably accompanied by his manager, Lady Daphne Witcombe (Toyah Willcox), and his soap-averse sidekick and aide-de-camp, Frampton (Barnaby Eaton-Jones), Hardwicke uses his stage show as cover for amazing acts of léger de brain, as he pits himself against ruffians, hoodlums, criminal types, and – being the 1930s – Nazis. One particular ardent follower of the Third Reich, Professor Fenella Vaytell (Julie-Ann Dean), has her sights firmly set on stealing Hardwicke’s incredible powers, through her ‘Brain Drain’ machine…
Supermind is an affectionate pastiche of the American radio serials of yore, served up in handy bitesize chunks which slip down easily. From the melodramatic setup to the traditional cliffhangers, every note is simply spot-on, forming a superb homage to a bygone form of storytelling. Who could pass up the temptation of hearing a good old fashioned smackdown between characters of stiff-upper-lipped British resolve and truly detestable devotees of Herr Hitler, intent upon carrying out the most diabolical of schemes?
It also takes the opportunity to break the fourth wall (which is no mean feat for an audio production, when you happen to think about it for a moment) and comment frequently upon not only the inherent sublime absurdity of the core premise, but also the rather dubious nature of the prevailing attitudes of the era in which it happens to be set. A smart, self-aware script by Eaton-Jones and Nic Ford, which is carried along so very nicely by Colin McFarlane as its charismatic, engaging leading man.
McFarlane’s previous appearances include a role in two films from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, and his vocal work will be familiar to viewers of ITV game show The Cube, but he also has some impressive comedy chops, having been in The Fast Show, Harry and Paul, and playing the bad guy Dr Muhahahaha in criminally overlooked Rufus Hound CBBC sci-fi comedy vehicle Hounded. As such, McFarlane has just impeccable comic timing, and milks every single moment for maximum laughs.
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He also has one of those wonderfully unctuous, warm voices you could just wrap yourself up in, which makes him such a natural for audio work. McFarlane just happens to have the perfect cohorts here, with Willcox’s haughtiness blending so beautifully with Eaton-Jones’ turn as the dependable, salt of the earth sidekick. And what would a Supermind be without a supervillain? Well, Dean is utterly exquisite as a gloriously OTT Vaytell, apparently channelling the great Patricia Quinn at her campest and scene-stealing best.
Supermind is guaranteed to deliver belly laughs and groans in equal measure, and definitely manages to serve up some sorely-needed lighthearted relief during what is proving to be a particularly gloomy patch. It really is a genuine triumph which deserves to run and run, so we can only hope that they have plenty more adventures in mind for Art Hardwicke and his associates, as that really would be super.
Supermind (Series 1) – The Brain Drain is out now from AUK Studios.