Special Agent in EPT’s sights

May 28 2014 | By More

Dick Barton, Special Agent for Church Hill Theatre

A hugely popular radio series from the era of the BBC Light Programme is resurrected at the Church Hill Theatre this week, as Edinburgh People’s Theatre bring Dick Barton, Special Agent to the stage.

Publicity shot for Dick Barton. Photo © Robert Fuller

Publicity shot for Dick Barton. Photo © Robert Fuller

At the height of its popularity in the late 1940s, each fifteen minute episode – with its memorable Devil’s Galop signature tune – was listened to by an audience of over 20 million.

The series of derring-do and convoluted cliff-hangers is the stuff of legend and parody. Ex-commando Dick Barton and his trusty sidekicks Jock and Snowy got into an outrageous scrape every night but the next evening, with one bound, they would be free.

EPT is staging Phil Willmott’s 1998 stage musical adaptation, which sees nefarious arch-villain Baron Scarheart planning to take control of Britain by lacing the nation’s tea supplies with Slunk: the most potent cannabis known to man, thereby rendering the populace pliant to his will.

Of course the only person who can stop him is Dick Barton, special agent and tea time radio star, ably assisted by his working class sidekicks, Jock and Snowy. But when Barton goes missing (captured and imprisoned in Berlin by the lusty femme fatale, Marta Heartburn), the fate of Ol’ Blighty hangs on a thread.

Director Iain Fraser has fond memories of listening to the series growing up. “The script reads incredibly well and brings back long lost memories of finishing my tea quickly in order to sit and listen to the show on the wireless.

“endless fits of giggles”

“It was a tradition with my parents and my aunts to listen to every episode if possible. To be able to recreate something I held in such esteem is really wonderful.”

Mairi Beaver and Ronnie Miller. Photo © Robert Fuller

Mairi Beaver and Ronnie Millar. Photo © Robert Fuller

With a cast of all ages, Dick Barton might be fresh to some of the younger cast but it is still hitting the comedy spot. Mairi Beaver, who plays arch-villain Marta Heartburn reports “endless fits of giggles” from the cast – of all ages – during rehearsal time.

“The play is timeless,” she says. “Jokes that were relevant when the series was initially a hit still hold their weight today. The musical numbers ranging from a spoof of Nessun Dorma to the beautiful duet of A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square means that not only is it laugh-a-minute, the show also delivers a lovely, if not daft, message.”

The EPT production plays the Church Hill Theatre from Wednesday 28 to Saturday 31 May. Performances are nightly at 7.30pm during the week with one performance, a 2.30pm matinee, on Saturday.

As the Dick Barton series came to an end in 1951, The Archers was just beginning and eventually took over the evening slot. Little of the original BBC Light Programme material exists, but in 1972 the BBC recorded a new 10 episode version of the very first series: The Secret Weapon. Click below to listen.

EPT present: Dick Barton, Special Agent
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Wed 28 – Sat 31 May 2014.
Wed-Fri: 7.30pm; Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets £10 from EPT website: www.ept.org.uk

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