So today thanks to a kind friend I attended a recording of Cabin Pressure at the RADA studios in London. Cabin Pressure, for those who might not be familiar with it is a BBC Radio 4 sitcom dealing with the trials and tribulations of the crew of MJN Air – Captain Martin Crieff (Benedict Cumberbatch), First Officer Douglas Richardson (Roger Allam), Owner Carolyn Knap-Shappey (Stephanie Cole) and the eternally excitable and forever brilliant Arthur Knap-Shappey (John Finnemore). Written by the supremely talented John Finnemore Cabin Pressure has grown massively in popularity with every series. For series 4 the BBC received an astonishing 17,000 applications for tickets for the 600 seats available across the 3 recordings.
Today we saw two episodes being recorded. As fans will know the titles of the episodes are place names and they run in alphabetical order. So today’s episodes started with V & W . Now before the recording started John Finnemore very politely asked the audience not to give spoilers and so the following report is as spoiler light as possible – we wouldn’t want to ruin the fun!
First up was an episode which saw Martin & Douglas transporting two unusual and highly important passengers and Carolyn and Herc (guest star Anthony Stewart Head) taking a holiday together. The interplay between the cast was as brilliant as ever. These actors know their roles inside out and they have such fun doing the recordings. They clearly adore doing it and it’s just wonderful to watch people doing something they absolutely love. Tony Head is hugely popular (he got a massive cheer when he walked on) and it’s always fun to have him on the show. And this time we got to see him portraying a slightly different side to Herc. Sure he’s still the smooth, charming super pilot introduced in previous episodes but he’s also a little more uncertain (and a good deal more endearing) in this episode. He has lovely chemistry with Stephanie Cole and one speech in particular provoked a good deal of heartfelt “Awws…” from the audience. Tony had also come equipped with his own prop whipping on a pair of sunglasses at one point to denote the fact that he was on holiday.
Amusingly Tony had a great deal of difficulty with one line “soft shoe shuffle” leading Roger Allam to dryly ask at one point whether he wanted him to say the line. He had to repeat the line in pick ups at the end and just couldn’t get the troublesome words to come out right. This lead Benedict Cumberbatch (along with Roger and John) to form a sort of cheerleading squad for him standing in front of Tony and making “come on” style gestures and whopping with joy when he got the phrase right (to the vast amusement of all).
The plot featuring Douglas and Martin was huge fun and featured some moments that Martin fans will absolutely adore. It’s quite a momentous episode for Martin in many ways. Benedict and Roger play off each other brilliantly and are very very funny together. Douglas and Martin’s initial incredulity at the identity of their passenger was hilarious and lead to Benedict collapsing in a fit of giggles every time he had to say “Look at me” and stare at Roger Allam intently. Guest star Matilda Ziegler (who previously appeared in the episode Boston) played a character that I think Cabin Pressure fans will really take to their hearts. Warm, funny, sparky and just delightful her character was completely adorable and she worked very well indeed with Benedict. Theres also a few lines about rescuing people from dragons which given Benedict’s role in The Hobbit amused me immensely.
Kieran Hodgson was entertaining as a character on the same emotional level as Arthur and Dan Tetsell (playing the dual role of an increasingly annoyed engineer and a highly sardonic ATC operative) did his best to steal the show with some of the funniest lines of the episode.
There was some lovely physical comedy displayed in this episode with John Finnemore doing a couple of marvellously exaggerated movements which prompted such laughter that his accompanying lines had to be re-done (after we’d promised not to laugh and producer David Tyler had promised that an accompanying illustration would feature in the Radio Times). Benedict also ended the episode by doing a rather impressive leap (for joy) in the air.
After some pick ups (and a bit of on the spot re-writing from John Finnemore) and a brief interval in which we said goodbye to the guest stars (with the exception of Anthony Stewart Head who rather wonderfully stayed behind to watch taking a seat in the audience) it was time for the recording of the second episode which featured an absolute comedy legend as a guest star – the glorious Prunella Scales (who it has to be said looked amazing and was rocking an on trend and rather fabulous woollen dress). John Finnemore was so excited by her being there that before the episode aired he took to the microphone (with the remainder of the cast presuming that he was about to impart some words of wisdom). At which point he looked at the audience and mouthed in an awed tone “Prunella Scales” a couple of times. It was completely adorable.
In this episode we got to meet all of Martin’s family with Prunella Scales playing his mother, Justin Edwards (best known as “Blinky” Ben Swain in The Thick of It) as his brother Simon and Rosie Cavaliero as his sister Caitlin. Prunella Scales was simply wonderful as Martin’s mother (who is a good deal more perceptive than her son gives her credit for). She makes being funny seem so effortless and she made a highly amusing double act with John Finnemore who was extra adorable as Arthur in this episode. There is also some entertaining wordplay as Caroyln and Douglas come up with a new game to entertain themselves (I am in awe of John Finnemore’s ability to write so much of this script in accordance with the rules of this particular game – very impressive!)
There was also some hilarious physical comedy in this episode with Justin Edwards crushing Benedict in a big bear hug (making him go repeatedly bright red in the face) and physically lifting him off the ground a couple of times (no mean feat as Benedict at 6ft tall is not a small man). I wager fans will really love this episode because not only is it very much a true ensemble piece but it features the whole of MJN Air uniting to make Martin’s life just that bit happier.
And that was it for the recording – another two brilliant and delightfully amusing episodes which I greatly enjoyed and which I think the fans will absolutely love. But just before we went there was a lovely surprise for John Finnemore. Some enterprising fans had set up a project encouraging people to take photos of lemons with well known landmarks (a homage to the game travelling lemon which featured in an earlier episode). The project had received 1000s of entries from all over the world which had been compiled into a single (extremely hefty!) book. The project had also very impressively raised 4 figures for charity. The organiser of the project handed the book over to a visibly completely stunned John Finnemore giving a really lovely speech abut Cabin Pressure and what it means to so many people out there. What a lovely note to end things on!