Report: the first live audience recording in thirteen years...
23 December, 2011
It's a cold Friday night in December, on a studio lot in the grounds of an old manor house six miles or so south of Heathrow. Three hundred people are crammed into the rows of seating that line one wall of the warehouse-sized Studio K. They're watching a man in a blue tunic with a letter "H" glued to his forehead bossing around another man with a rubber mask and a funny walk. And they're laughing. A lot.
Image courtesy of Lost in TV
It's been thirteen years since this last happened, but the performances of Chris Barrie and Robert Llewellyn – and, later, Craig Charles and Danny John-Jules – make it feel more like thirteen weeks. Red Dwarf is back: and to an enraptured audience at Shepperton, it feels like it never went away.
Beforehand, as the lucky ticket-holders gather in an assigned holding area, the sense of anticipation in the air is palpable. While some of the people in the room might have seen Red Dwarf being recorded before, for many it's an opportunity they've never before had – and might have thought, five years or even six months ago, that they'd never get. But if there's one thing you learn from being a Red Dwarf fan, it's to expect the unpredictable.
And so it is that everyone files into the studio, immediately getting a first look at the brand new sets. There's almost as much interest among fans in how the show's going to look as there is in seeing the episodes themselves – and the audible gasps from many on the way in suggest that, once again, the production team have knocked it out of the park. To say too much would spoil what will be a lovely surprise come next autumn, but suffice to say that the new ship interior is at once a bold new direction and yet instantly evocative of just about every era of the show's history at once.
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This balance of new era with classic elements carries over to the script and story, too – and it's clear from their reaction that it's one the audience are happy with. A character-driven story based around an inventive sci-fi plot, of course we can't say anything about what happens in it, but about the biggest indication we can give you of its content is this: it's Red Dwarf. Gloriously, and entirely. And it's funny – really funny. You might think we're biased, but there are two hundred and ninety-nine other people in the room laughing as hard as we are – even, in some cases, after three or four takes of the same joke.
A four-hour shoot for a thirty-minute episode could be thought of as gruelling – but, lubricated by the warm-up stylings of stand-up comedian, Torchwood star and hardcore Dwarfer ("My twelve-year-old self would love this!") Tom Price, the audience are never bored. And it's a good job Dwarf fans, as aficionados of intelligently-written sci-fi, are a bit sharper than your average comedy fan – it means that everyone's able to follow the story despite the fact that, for technical reasons, some scenes are shot out of order.
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With the final scenes of the episode – not to mention a fair amount of material for the next Smeg Ups compilation – in the can, the audience filter out into the night once more, and there's a buzzing, unanimous consensus: based on this first episode, Red Dwarf X is a series refreshed and revitalised, looking with trademark sharpness and depth to the future as much as to the past. And the best thing about this glorious night? There are five more still to come...
Red Dwarf X continues filming in December and January and will be broadcast on Dave in Autumn 2012.