Saturday, 30 January 2010

Bernice Summerfield: "Oh No It Isn't!"

Paul Cornell’s introductory novel for the original Bernice Summerfield solo adventures is also the first ever Big Finish production. This first of a kind production was cleverly adapted by Jac Rayner who streamlines the story into one, fantastic, pantomime adventure.

This audio is a delight from start to finish, despite deliberately undermining itself every step of the way with a tongue in cheek wink at the audience. This is not a recipe for a successful series but on this one occasion the story manages to hold up as a whole, largely due to exemplary performances from the cast and wonderful a sound design that gives the play a deliberately creaky floorboard feel.

Lisa Bowerman’s voice seems a natural fit for Bernice, and although this is her first foray into the part she succeeds admirably. She is overshadowed somewhat though by the presence of Nicholas Courtney playing his strangest role to date; a talking cat. He clearly seems to enjoy the role, his voice perfectly suited to drawing Bernice, and the listeners, into a roaring adventure around the magical fairytale land. He also brings a natural gravitas that is essential for one of the plays rare, sombre moments, when Wolsley discovers his true secret identity.

The rest of the cast fit together well, with Mark Gatiss as the grand vizier deliberately throwing in an over the top ‘boo hiss’ performance as a scheming vizier. Added to the mix are a larger than life genie, an old exhausted king, several ‘dwarves’, a ladylike dame and several tongue in cheek Grell. No performance stands out as being below par, and all stand scrutiny under the warm panto-lights glare.

Perhaps the weakest area of the play is its beginning. It takes a few minutes to get into the spirit of adventure, but the scenes leading into the Grell attack on the ship seem slightly strange. As this is presumed to be the listener’s first glimpse of Bernice, showing her reluctantly seducing a student is perhaps not the best first impression. Fortunately the pace picks up once the topic of exploding stars and cross dressing are raised.

All in all Oh No It Isn’t is something that Big Finish obviously put a lot of time and effort into. A grand cast is assembled for a production every bit as bold and epic as it deserves to be. The only gripe I have is that although this is a standout play in its own right it does not set the best example for a series. It is a story where the majority of the cast suffer multiple identity crisis’s (including the titular character) for the majority of the play, a main character who almost accidentally seduces a student and a villain just as ridiculous as pantomime demands. Although this is fantastic we should all be glad it remains unique, and that although the series has continued it quickly changed its tone to something much more mature.

9 / 10

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