Circled in the Radio Times by John Osborne

TV has a special place in our hearts, for comforting us on a very personal level, and for giving us the communal experience of watching and talking about it. It is part of our national identity; all brits look at Inspector Morse or Eastenders or James Bond as a distinct part of their culture, whether high or low.The certain TV shows one chooses to watch can reveal much about a person and their current needs, whether they just want something consolatory and familiar, or the thrill of the champions league final. When suffering, we are grateful for the screen’s distraction and its erasure of time. Circled in the The Radio Times by John Osborne shows us why this is so, and much, much more, in a thrilling 45 minutes.

To a Fringe audience who may have earlier that day sat sweating through a visceral Brecht or Beckett, this admission feels like a long hug.

A gifted storyteller armed with aphoristic wisdom, Osborne focuses on the collected editions of the Radio Times his Grandfather left behind when he died, which the latter religiously bought every week since the 1980s. In the listings, he circled the shows he wanted to catch, and drew a love heart around his favourites. We are taken through amusingly dated articles, which shed as much light on the era in which they were written as they do on our own; Osborne points to a 1985 feature in the magazine in which Lenny Henry, then a young upcoming comedian, laments the lack of opportunities for Black actors - not much, Osborne rightly acknowledges, has changed. Through these editions, there, in front of our eyes, with all their intimate marks of use and wear, we get to know Osborne’s grandfather in a fullness that is impossible in most 45 minutes plays. Sometimes with a shy smile, a nostalgic glaze on his eyes or a pained reflective glance, the poet unfailingly finds the perfect words to describe any idiosyncrasy or mannerism until we have a whole group of characters before our eyes we feel we really know. It is seldom that one feels they are entering a different world through a show, stepping into someone else’s life. In Circled in Radio Times, we get this in all its exhilarating glory.

Osborne’s piece is incredibly well-paced, while moving from extremes of emotion, from loss to hilarity. It is as much a nostalgic ode to a bygone England as it is an ode to family, social bonds and hobbies. The England he shows us is one of Playschool, The Archers, bobbies on the beat and test-match cricket. He sees it with the warm nostalgia with which one associates with familial love, and just to watch him as he takes his journey back into his childhood past is undeniably moving.

Surrounded by screens and an overwhelming abundance of choice of what to watch, we today often forget the significance of the TV revolution, the excitement, consolation, and the connection to the outside world that it gave many. In a highly personal and intimate monologue John Osborne shows us why it is that we are so attached to TV, why we get angry at bad reviews of our favourite shows, and why we just can’t wait to talk to our friends about the latest episode. He takes us back to the 1980s because that is when TV came and changed everything. At a time of political instability, crippling divisions across the country surrounding British identity, Osborne provides a tale of crucial cultural unity.

“Sometimes all you need is someone to watch an episode of something with and laugh and not talk” says the poet in this one man performance which melts the boundaries between spoken word poetry, storytelling theatre and stand up with its sheer warmth, sensitivity and openness. He’s not wrong. To a Fringe audience who may have earlier that day sat sweating through a visceral Brecht or Beckett, this admission feels like a long hug. From the outset Osborne instills such an irresistible atmosphere of honesty that it’s hard to leave without feeling like you’ve spent the last hour speaking to a good friend. Did I mention It’s free?

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Performances

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The Blurb

A brand new storytelling show by John Osborne (John Peel's Shed, Sky 1's After Hours). Finding a collection of old copies of the Radio Times leads John to piece together the life of the previous owner through the shows that have been circled. This show looks at the changing way all of us watch television. 'Sits somewhere between Daniel Kitson and Tom Wrigglesworth, I could have listened for hours' (Independent on John Peel's Shed). 'Beautifully written, funny and poignant' (Scotsman on John Peel's Shed).

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