The wild and wacky exploits of Baron Munchausen may not be as popular in this country as they once were, despite the moustached explorer remaining popular in other parts of Europe. While Rudolf Erich Raspe’s original stories have inspired all manner of ways to tell of the Baron’s exploits, Paul Birch’s audio series, The Barren Author brings Munchausen in to the 21st Century.
The six-part series directed by Barnaby Eaton-Jones, wonderfully captures the spirit of Munchausen but avoids being just another adaptation. It feels like Paul Birch has instead taken the concept, and created something that fits in to the modern world, without losing any of the fantastical elements that made the character famous.
In The Barren Author, Richard O’Brien, creator of the wildly popular The Rocky Horror Show, returns to an acting role, leading the series as The Brigadier. In the first episode he explains that he has the same Germanic blood flowing through his veins as the Royal Family; the name Munchausen remains, even if the title is different.
In each episode of this audio comedy drama, we listen in to video calls between the Brigadier and a mysterious Smith, played by Sophie Aldred. It seems that the Brigadier is writing an autobiography, or perhaps just committing his unlikely tales to paper for future generations to enjoy. But as the series progresses, we start to wonder if the book is another of the Brigadier’s fantasies, and if that’s the case, who is Smith and what is the purpose of the weekly video chat?. This particular thread of the story keeps the audience hooked, although each episode does tend to conclude with some sort of cliffhanger to tempt you to listen to the next straight away.
Sophie Aldred is excellent as the O’Brien’s foil, showing just enough interest and incredulity in the Brigadier’s tales to give O’Brien the space to explore the comedic elements that are so delightfully woven through every episode. Previous adaptations have enjoyed making Munchausen a caricature of himself, but Birch’s writing is intelligent; heightening the satire and parody.
Whether the Brigadier’s stories can be believed or not is immaterial, it’s unlikely he’s died twice, made a pact with God or ever went to Mars, but it’s the exaggeration and ridiculousness that makes this version of Munchausen do devilishly delightful to listen to. O’Brien’s wonderful character work, enabled by Eaton-Jones’ direction, means the listener can fall head first in to this unbelievably crazy world.
While we’ve all spent far too much of this year on video calls, it’s almost certain none will have been as interesting as those hosted by Brigadier Munchausen. As an audio drama, The Barren Author ticks plenty of boxes; it’s well written, wonderfully performed and guaranteed to keep you hooked.
The Barren Author will be released 31 October 2020. Price: £3.99 each episode or £19.95 for all 6 if bought together via www.spitefulpuppet.com