Strangeness in Space sees 1990s’ children’s TV comedy duo Trevor Neal and Simon Hickson join forces with former Doctor Who assistant Sophie Aldred, in a series of unexpected and surreal adventures aboard a deep-space vessel, in orbit around Planet Mirth.
As well as recently showing their mettle as trivia experts on BBC quiz show Pointless, Trevor and Simon are proven talents as authors of daft sketches; and it’s a skill that’s used to great effect here. But the immediately impressive thing about this new online comedy sci-fi serial is not its content or conceit, but the way that it has been brought into being. This is a completely autonomous and entirely crowd-funded series; with the small production team recording, mixing and releasing each new episode, as the funding target is met. Fans and supporters agreeing to back Strangeness in Space can select from an inventive range of affordable merchandise, or enjoy treats (such as having their name read out in the programme credits). It is such a brilliantly twenty-first century way of generating the monies necessary to fund a creative sci-fi project, you can’t help but wonder why more people aren’t doing exactly the same.
The plots of the early episodes are playful and frequently absurd. Listeners won’t find much agonised existential reflection on the nature of human existence, but they will enjoy lots of well-crafted gags, ridiculous word play and improbable moments of ‘mild peril’. As a result, it’s not really the destination of the plot that matters, so much as the fun of the journey in getting there. The first episode features a shoe-storm (a cue for lots of terrible footwear puns), while episode two is all about an unsettling outbreak of hiccups and flatulence amongst the ship’s crew. You get the general idea…
One of the joys of Strangeness in Space is the very postmodern way that it breaks the norms of the audio drama format: as characters complain to the narrator; argue about the logic of the storyline; and continually break through the artificial constraints of the ‘sound barrier’ between performer and listener. But it’s a sort of postmodernism that will be used to set up a string of preposterous name puns, or jokes at the writers’ expense, and not one that tries to come over all BBC-Four-clever with an exploration of ‘meta-narratives’.
Everything about the show tells you that cast and crew are simply having a blast. Sophie Aldred is excellent in the role of a bewildered NASA Space Centre gift shop manager, while Trevor and Simon (here playing self-obsessed members of 1980s’ pop-synth band Pink Custard) deliver their signature squabbling shtick to hugely entertaining effect, only this time in outer space. Along with producer Clare Eden, the main cast are alumni of Manchester university drama studies, and they are joined by some impressive names, including Rufus Hound, Alexi Sayle (as a tightly-wound museum attendant) and genre stalwart Barnaby Edwards (who delivers a great turn as the robot-computer Lemon). It was recently announced that Paterson Joseph (Peep Show, Survivors) would join the cast for episode four, when the funding target is reached. This is a quality project: the production values and sound design bear comparison with any fully-commercial audio output; and the programme’s web site is a first rate piece of design too.
There is warmth to Trevor and Simon’s writing and performances, and the quiet ‘madness of their method’ delivers comedy that is always silly but never sickly sweet. This latest project of theirs offers a universe of possibilities for random nonsense and weird happenings that can frustrate the good intentions of the series’ heroes. The producers of Strangeness in Space have launched a funding bid for the £5k needed to fund the recording of episode four Pet Shock Boys – you see what they did there? The first three episodes are available to stream and download for free from the series’ site or through iTunes. Choosing not to check out some good, free, funny sci-fi? Now that would be strange.
STRANGENESS IN SPACE: EPISODES 1-3 / PRODUCER: CLARE EDEN / AUTHOR: TREVOR AND SIMON / STARRING: TREVOR, SIMON, SOPHIE ALDRED, CAROL CLEVELAND, BARNABY EDWARDS, PETER GUINNESS, RUFUS HOUND, DOON MACKICHAN, ALEXI SAYLE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW FOR FREE DOWNLOAD