Monday, 20 May 2013

Cabin Pressure (Series 1-3)

Cabin Pressure is a radio sitcom about a one-airplane airline called MJN Air and the hilarious escapades of its staff. It's played on BBC Radio 4 and every single episode is written by John Finnemore. Cabin Pressure first started airing back in 2008 and it has a very young fanbase for a Radio 4 show. Why? Because Benedict Cumberbatch is in it! Cabin Pressure has always been well-reviewed but John Finnemore himself has said that the fanbase for the show pretty much tripled overnight when Sherlock first started airing on TV. Finnemore also noticed that the fans who turned up at Cabin Pressure's live recordings started to get younger and more female. In fact a whopping 17,000 people applied for tickets to Cabin Pressure's series four recordings which only goes to show just how popular the show has become.

I freely admit that I would have probably never even heard of Cabin Pressure if Benedict Cumberbatch wasn't in it. The only other radio drama that I've listened to is a version of Phantom of the Opera by Big Finish Productions (which is excellent BTW). Now that I've actually heard Cabin Pressure from series one to three I completely recommend it. It's brilliant! It's an absolutely hilarious sitcom and is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. And by laugh out loud funny I don't mean little giggles and sniggers funny. Oh no! I have actually howled with laughter at some episodes! The show is THAT good and it's seriously one of the best sitcoms I've ever heard! The episodes are brilliantly-written by John Finnemore and his writing is hilarious in a very witty, sharp, dry way. Cabin Pressure is a clever sitcom and the episodes are well-plotted and stand up to repeat listenings. I love the adventure feel of Cabin Pressure as well. The characters actually get to travel around the world!

The characters in Cabin Pressure are all extremely likeable and the acting in the show is as brilliant as the writing. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Martin Crieff who's the captain of the airline. Martin really couldn't be any more different to Sherlock Holmes. He's uptight, insecure, bumbling and just-about-competent. He's always getting outwitted by his first officer Douglas Richardson. Cabin Pressure really shows off Cumberbatch's comedy range and he's been in every episode of the show apart from Newcastle. He was unwell at the time so they got in the actor Tom Goodman-Hill to play Martin for that episode. Goodman-Hill does a decent job but you can tell that Martin is being played by a different actor. Martin's first officer Douglas Richardson is played by Roger Allam. Douglas is a very sarcastic and cunning character. He's always scheming and plotting and he reminds me quite a bit of Edmund Blackadder at times. Roger Allam is probably most famous for originating the role of Javert in the West End production of Les Miserables and he does get to show his singing voice off in a few episodes. Allam was also in Parade's End with Cumberbatch and I got to see him play Prospero in The Tempest just last weekend. The owner of the airline is Carolyn Knapp-Shappey. Carolyn is a middle-aged, battleaxe divorcee and she's pretty cunning herself in her own way. She's played by Stephanie Cole who has been in Doc Martin and Coronation Street. The final main character of the show is Arthur Knapp-Shappey. He's the steward of the airline and is Carolyn's well-meaning, enthusiastic, dim-witted son. He's played by Finnemore himself. Most of the humour in the show comes from the bickering between Martin and Douglas, Carolyn's penny-pinching ways, and Arthur's idiocy.

The main characters are extremely likeable and funny and they have quite a lot of depth. For all their clashes and disagreements it's obvious that they like each other deep down. They really do seem like an (admittedly weird) family and the show can be pretty heartwarming. In addition to the main actors there's also been some very impressive guest stars in the show: Helen Baxendale, John Sessions, Mark Williams, Alison Steadman, Ben Willbond, Phil Davis and Anthony Stewart Head.

It's difficult for me to narrow down what my absolute favourite Cabin Pressure episode is. I love all of the episodes but Ottery St Mary, Qikiqtarjuaq, Paris, Cremona, Ipswich, Helsinki, Newcastle and St Petersburg especially. Sherlock fans should love Paris in particular! This is a detective episode in which Martin goes all Miss Marple on us! This episode is really a hilarious homage to Sherlock of course. Apparently this episode took ages to record because the audience were in hysterics and could not stop laughing, and Cumberbatch kept throwing them some Sherlock Holmes facial expressions.

I bought a disc set of Cabin Pressure on Amazon, which included series one to three of the show plus the Christmas special episode Molokai. It only cost me about £10 which is a bargain. I've ordered series four of the show and I'm waiting for that to arrive. Again, I completely recommend Cabin Pressure. It's hilarious, clever, great fun, heartwarming, and brilliantly written and acted. The episodes are recorded in front of a live audience so all the laughter that you hear is genuine. Even if you've never really listened to radio drama before then give it a try!

Rating: 5/5

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