Liam Rudden: The many voices of Katy Manning

Katy Manning and Tom Baker
Katy Manning and Tom Baker
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RADIO drama. Nothing beats it. Especially when you have a cast that can establish a room full of characters with just a tweak of their vocal chords.

Actors like Katy Manning, a favourite, I’ll confess, since becoming my first crush when I was seven and watching her as the irresistibly bubbly Jo Grant, opposite Jon Pertwee in Doctor Who.

Katy’s vocal dexterity still astounds me today. I was reminded of just how versatile she is when I recently caught up with two audio plays in which she stars.

The first was a murksome and swervish affair (that’s a good thing) from Bafflegab, producers of some of the best audio dramas around.

Gobbleknoll Hall is the latest tale in their Baker’s End series, which finds Katy starring opposite veteran actor Tom Baker, a man as famous for his instantly recognisable velvety tones as for his bonkers approach to life.

The fact that Baker plays a fictionalised ‘feline’ version of himself in Baker’s End should serve as a caution to expect the unexpected.

Indeed, Baker’s End is a glorious example of absurdist theatre.

In the latest instalment, ghost-hunting telly show Manifest Yourself is filming an overnight vigil in the ancient and spooky Gobbleknoll Hall.

With laugh out loud performances and breath-taking one-liners sure to leave you rewinding to make sure ‘they really did just say that,’ Baker’s End is brought to life by a talented ensemble.

It’s Katy, however, who really gets the opportunity to display her vocal skills, not least in a scene in which she becomes possessed.

That said, the actress is no stranger to the medium, from babies to Hollywood legends, rock stars to toy dolls, she has voiced them all.

When she brought her one-woman show, Jezebel and Me, to the Fringe in 2009, she was hailed for her ‘tour de voice’ performance.

The true story of how Bette Davis invited herself to stay for a night with a life-long fan and didn’t leave for a month, Manning played all the parts - both male and female - seamlessly bouncing from one to the next and back without out hesitation.

That ability is also in evidence in two new Big Finish Doctor Who audios, The Transcendence of Ephros and The Hidden Realm

In both, Manning slips effortlessly back into the character of the 20-year-old Jo, sounding as young as she did when she debuted in the role, despite the passage of time. No mean feat when you consider more than four decades have since passed.

Katy’s lifetime of experience in the field, alongside that of the legendary Tom Baker, is no doubt part of the reason that Baker’s End has been nominated for a 2017 BBC Audio Drama Award.

Ironically for Katy, the Bafflegab production is up against two titles from her other stable, Big Finish.

Good luck to all. May the best voices win... and we all know those belong to Katy.

Baker’s End: Gobbleknoll Hall, CD £9.99, Download £6.99, www.bafflegab.co.uk