Thursday 1 September 2011

A tidy line

John Peel’s Shed, Underbelly, Edinburgh

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

In 2002, John Osbourne won a competition. His tagline summing up John Peel’s Radio One show – ‘Records you want to hear, played by a man who wants you to hear them’ – left him the recipient of a box of old vinyl direct from the DJ’s shed. Nine years later, his knack for a tidy line comes to his aid again, in this gentle paean to radio.

John Peel’s Shed intersperses a handful of those records, which include OiZone, a Boyzone punk covers band, and Atom and his Package’s ‘Pumping Iron for Enya’, with a meandering paddle through Osbourne’s experiences of – and expertise on – radio. He clearly knows his subject well. In fact, he’s written the book and, really, this feels like little more than the edited highlights. It’s all very Radio Four, gentle and witty and snug, but the rambling structure ultimately pulls John Peel’s Shed down. There’s a small-town coming-of-age story within (director Joe Dunthorne wrote Submarine), but it’s not robust enough to suffice as the show’s skeleton.

Osbourne is not a natural performer, but, both for what he says and how he says it, he is an interesting specimen. There’s such gawky vulnerability that you can’t but swoon with pity. Far removed from his cantankerous namesake, Osbourne is a human sheepdog: doltish and awkward, but endearingly benign. He’s the sort of chap grandmothers adore. This curly fringe droops over his forehead. His shoulders hang limp and his hands are never quite sure what to do with themselves. R’s soft enough to serve as fairground prizes add to the cuddliness, but after half an hour of this, served straight down the central aisle without a flicker of eye contact, one grows increasingly drowsy.

While there’s an awful lot of Quite Interesting material, the whole is steeped in sadness. Even beyond Osbourne’s harmless obsession with his subject, here is a man still living off a sentence he wrote nine years ago. He’s won the competition, written the book, presented the radio series and, now, done the stage show. You can’t help but wonder what happens next. It’s this good will – not so much earned as a reflex response to a lost child – that provides John Peel’s Shed its foundations. If we follow Osbourne to the end of the earth, we do so not as disciples, but out of concern for his well-being.


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