The Cambridge Geek

The Penny Dreadfuls Present:

[UPDATE - 8th September 2019]: The Penny Dreadfuls continue to make excellent historical comedy, this time about Hadrian and his beard, attempting to build a really big wall across the north of England.

As you might imagine, regional accents are in full force, and they're attached to some of the silliest people you'll ever meet, including a small boy with big dreams, a lads' night out, a very tiny but sexually irrepressible wife, and a crone. The crone is, of course, Margaret Cabourn-Smith, back for her yearly appearance as a woman who might be slightly wise, and who at this point gets a cheer when she appears. I'm beginning to suspect the panto element is getting somewhat more present.

Ludicrous setup, ludicrous gags, ludicrous behaviour. I'll never not recommend these, so go listen to it.

[ORIGINAL - 26th August 2018]: You may or may not be aware of the Penny Dreadfuls. Just in case you're not, they're a sketch comedy group, primarily made up of Humphrey Ker, David Reed and Thom Tuck. They do various live things, but I mostly know them through this series of "Presents". Thus far, that's included the Brother's Faversham, re-tellings of historic events (Darwin, French Revolution and more) and "adaptations" of fictional works, such as Macbeth, the Odyssey and now Don Quixote.

They tend to sneak outside of the core three of them to expand the cast for useful additional voices, and here they've done that with the wonderful choice of Sylvester McCoy as Don Quixote, who quests into the world with Tuck as his squire, Sancho. McCoy has spent long enough now that any nerd like me will struggle to separate him from Doc Who, but he does bewildered hero brilliantly here.

Like all of their adaptations, this is both self-aware and not afraid to take liberties with the source text, with no small amount of leaning on the fourth wall. All of which is perhaps best shown via the recognition that the bit with the windmills is definitely the most well-known, which is why they're doing it, and certainly not because it's near the start of a famously long book.

As usual, this is hilarious, and probably surprisingly accurate to the original book. No, I haven't read it either. Quixote's mad obsession with chivalry, questing and the threat of giants allows them to set up an impressive number of terrible events for Amanda Abbington to sarcastically narrate. It's rounded out with a cast of misfits and near madmen, my favourite of which is the priest who tells terrible jokes. Although Cabourn-Smith's hag is a close second.

I'm slightly embarassed to admit that my biggest laugh stemmed from a remarkably simple yet crude double entendre, but my god it's well crafted. Trust me, you'll know it when it hits you. There's also a spectacular knob joke. (That's a spectacular joke about a knob. Since it's on the radio, I can't comment on the quality of the knob.)

You'll listen to it for the jokes, particularly the frequent ones about naughty wizards, but the final result does achieve a certain somber nature as you see Quixote's fall in spirit as he ends up playing along with the pranks for the Duke and Duchess, and it hits hard. Definitely well put together. But my god am I annoyed I've just realised I missed the Le Carre one. Hopefully they'll come out with a volume 3 soon.

Score 5

Tagged: Radio Comedy Cast Fiction Adaptation