Touring – reviewed at King’s Theatre, London
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
There are some brilliantly imaginative elements to the touring production of Vulcan 7 at the King’s. Unfortunately, none of them are in Adrian Edmondson and Nigel Planer’s script.
Despite two careers that have been remarkably varied and successful, the names of Edmondson and Planer still conjure up The Young Ones to many. Here they star as two old RADA classmates – one whose star is waning, and one who is having a late-career renaissance due to a series of blockbuster superhero movies – who are reunited, somewhat against their will, on the side of an Icelandic volcano.
Much of this is thoroughly accomplished. Simon Higlett’s set – a dinky enclosed movie set trailer powered by some nifty hydraulics – is utterly perfect, and lends itself to one of the most peculiarly sited curtain calls you are likely to see.
Mic Pool’s sound is an object lesson in how to do big-venue touring productions. Doctor Who alumnus Murray Gold’s music is suitably portentous, and walks the same fine line as Karen Large and Josie Thomas’s monster outfit for Edmondson. This is just close enough to a believable big-budget film costume to convince, while still eliciting a laugh.
Planer, as just-about-hanging-in-there jobbing actor Hugh Delavois, has a crumpled charm. Edmondson meanwhile, gives Gary Savage – once ‘Scorsese’s go-to maniac’ and Oscar nominee, now reduced to glorified walk-ons – a certain degree of self-despising pathos.
Unfortunately, they are rather let down by their own writing. Anyone not fascinated by in-jokes about the acting business will struggle to get much humour at all out of it, and the constant assertions that hanging out on movie sets is such a terribly dull way to make a living will not resonate with too many.
Purely in terms of performance, the two stars are outshone by the excellent Lois Chimimba as production runner Leela, whose role is underwritten but given considerable life in her hands.
Despite being billed as a ‘hilarious comedy’, there is a definite attempt to walk on the dark side. Deliberate echoes of Beckett are not confined to the song that opens the second act and an off-stage character being called Vladimir. This is an ambitious road to go down and it only pays off very rarely.
What is worse, the physical violence many would associate with Edmondson’s earlier days is now only verbal. I have no problems with the constant swearing – some of it certainly adds colour – but there has to be a way of showing that the characters are ‘dinosaurs’ without having such horribly dated references that now can only be interpreted as homophobic or anti-women.
The choice of the name ‘Vulcan’ for the film series (where Delavois plays a butler and Savage a heat-generating monster who has one word to shout) may be some kind of a joke about the way films recycle ideas, what with it being a name already borrowed by other franchises, notably Star Trek. However, it just comes across – like so much else about this – as a tad lazy.
There is the odd line that strikes home, such as the summing-up of an artistic career as ‘a series of mistakes and doing things that make people hate you’, and there is a melancholy attraction to some of it. It may be a cathartic experience for the two actor-writers, although if even one-tenth of the hatred for the profession expressed here is true you can only feel sorry for them.
It is difficult to feel any such sympathy for the characters they have created, however, and as a result this does tend to drag, despite Steve Marmion’s pacy direction.
Technically, much of this is accomplished, and some of it verging on brilliant – which is why it would be unfair to drag this down below the three-star mark – but it is in the service of a rather limp play. In the end it is neither as funny nor as clever as the audience desperately want it to be.
Running time 2 hours including one interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Monday 5– Saturday 10 November 2018
Daily at 7.30 pm, Matinees Wed and Sat: 2.30 pm
Tickets and details: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/vulcan7
Adrian Edmondson, Nigel Planer and Lois Chimimba. Pic Nobby Clark