The Unseen Hour
Reviewed – 24th October 2019
“We’ve come to listen to the voices, and any visuals are just comic icing on the cake”
Spending an hour in the company of James Carney, Brice Stratford, Joey Timmins and The Unseen Hour is a bit like getting on one of those rollercoaster rides. It’s a gravity defying journey that turns your expectations inside out and upside down—and, as it gathers speed, leaves you realising that whatever notions of “real” you may have had at the start—well, forget reality, hang onto your hat, and for sixty minutes, just enjoy the ride. This is another theatre production presented as a “live radio broadcast,” (and this seems to be a thing on the London Fringe right now). Creator, writer and producer Carney has gained something of a cult following by making podcasts of fifty of these shows. Yes, fifty. So if you’re wondering what you’ve missed by not attending The Unseen Hour’s only appearance at the 2019 London Horror Festival at the Pleasance Theatre in Islington, fear not. You can revel in the experience either through your favourite podcast app, or, if you’re old school like me, catch the visuals and the audios by finding it on You Tube. Carney promises that number fifty one, which was performed last night, should shortly be joining its siblings online.
How to describe a show that begins by describing a dystopian future where a narcissistic scientist finds himself battlling robots and an evil corporation, to protect mutating teenagers? You could be forgiven for thinking that the future is already here. What sets Carney’s show apart though, is the way in which he and the company loop back into the past for their inspiration. Billed as a mashup of Welcome To Night Vale and The Goon Show, or Blackadder and The Twilight Zone, The Unseen Hour does indeed borrow its characterisations and voices from these earlier classics. But don’t arrive expecting the sleek production values of those past television shows. The stage is a mess of microphones and oddities for making live foley sound effects. The actors dress in costumes utterly unrelated to any character they might be playing. It doesn’t matter. We’ve come to listen to the voices, and any visuals are just comic icing on the cake.
Voices are the strength of these performers, and they provide a dizzying array of different characters, all with distinct accents. What gives the show its unique charm however, are the bumbling asides as the three performers juggle parts, sound effects and direct address to audience members—whom they seem to know a lot about. It gives the show an authenticity of being part of the experience that goes beyond removing the fourth wall. And there is an established pattern to the show, despite the running gags, anarchic storylines and just-in-time performance styles. Every show, including this one, includes a guest monologue and a guest musician. It gives Carney, Stratford and Timmins (and the audience) a chance to catch their collective breath. Anna Maguire (the monologue performer) and Kevin Maguire (the musician) on this evening, provided a welcome (and talented) change of pace at each interval.
It’s easy to get hooked on this kind of dramatic experience. That said, it is a bit bewildering for the first time visitor. There’s not really any “tune in” time, because the performers jump right in with their stream-of consciousness monologues and random associations, and assume you can keep up. As said before, it’s best to let go of expectations and be carried along in the show’s slipstream. As ancient sages have so often remarked, it’s not the destination that’s important, it’s the journey.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
The Unseen Hour
Pleasance Theatre as part of London Horror Festival
Previously reviewed at this venue: