BBC Radio 4: a world of middle-English politeness and niche topical interest and Women’s Institute-approved humour. At least, that’s the BBC Radio 4 Celia Jesson aspires to. She’s the presenter of the Toxborough Village Hall Chat Show, a magazine programme featuring jumble sale trinkets, the odd off-key song and interviews with two special guests: Celia’s ukulele-playing sidekick, Centre-Parting Martin, and a random bloke in the front row.
It’s spot-on character work from Joanna Neary, whose twinkled-toed Celia is inspired by ‘Brief Encounter’s Laura Jesson (played by Celia Johnson). In the 1945 film, a timid housewife is torn between the prospect of a wildly passionate affair and her mildly affectionate marriage. In ‘Faceful of Issues’, Neary’s Celia is tinged with a similar desperation, her increasingly hare-brained segments punctuated by references to her (conspicuously absent) husband, Fred.
Such a layered, complex persona is only half the battle, though, and Neary’s written material doesn’t quite measure up to her character creation. Sure, Celia’s awkward interactions with Martin and her batty flights of fancy are amusing, but she peaks far too early with a determinedly bright and bubbly intro, and her waning energy as the show goes on, while still true to character, becomes a bit of a drag for the audience. Celia Jesson may be a natural fit for whatever skewed version of Radio 4 exists in her mind, but she’s hard pressed to keep a Fringe crowd tuned in for a full hour.