The Cambridge Geek

Vulcan 7

Back to the theatre once again, summoned along entirely by the promise of Nigel Planer and Adrian Edmondson. Star power. It's a devil of a thing that it works, but it does. Like almost everybody else in the country (I assume), I've seen/enjoyed them in "The Young Ones", "Filthy, Rich and Catflap", "Bottom", and a host of other things. Given they were coming to my corner of the world, it would have felt rude not to go.

And am I glad I did.

In this, they are actors. Edmondson is Gary Savage, the young hellraiser who never really grew up, and Planer is Hugh Delavois, the quiet young man who grew up a little too far. They've got previous, obviously, having studied together at RADA, shared/stolen ex-girlfriends from each other, and have competed over the years for ever-diminishing parts, as their stars have fallen.

Those parts have shrunk sufficiently to find them here, brought back onto the same set, and into the same trailer, with almost non-existent roles in Vulcan 7, a fantasy sequel of some sort or other. Hugh, playing to type, is a butler. His ability to be deferential to mad gods is without compare. Gary, on the other hand, is a lobster. Well, perhaps that's unfair. He's a Thermidorn, an evil alien race with all manner of malevolent plans. He just happens to look a bit like a prawn.

I can only assume that CGI-ing an entire mountain is expensive, so for the purposes of having a nice background, they find themselves filming on a glacier on Eyjafjallajökull, trying to avoid the chill, and possibly an eruption. Being stuck together on a glacier in a single trailer (Hugh's trailer, thank you very much), is not something either of them are too happy to deal with, after that unfortunate incident with Alan Bennett and the bowl of custard. It were a reet rum day, that.

Which is what drives the majority of the play along. It's mostly a digging through of old wounds, both self-inflicted and external, as they discuss and argue over what lead them to be on top of a cracking ice shelf. (No, that's not the good sort of cracking.) Helping increase the danger is the fact that most of the crew are stuck on the other side of a ravine, unable to help them, particularly the catering van.

Balancing all this old blood (and bile and anger) is Leela (Lois Chimimba), a set runner whose job should merely involve telling people their schedules and moving them about, but actually requires a firm hand and the capability to muscle them into behaving themselves. Not easy with these two troublemakers. Leela has problems of her own, the most obvious of which is an odd new-agey belief in her talents as a volcano-talker, something that felt very out of place (and mildly weird from someone otherwise written very practically). Chimimba does an excellent job of it though, managing to both instill an impressive command into her tone, while letting her humanity show through where needed.

A lot of this is somewhat meta, being acting about acting. There are the potted histories of troubled productions, the gallivanting around the world on short notice to do a walk-on, and the constant need to be loved and remembered as a driving force. It drags through the mud of the negatives of the profession, and naturally you wonder how much of it is drawn from real life. How much is acting, and how much is just telling? You win either way. If it's telling, it's a fascinating insight into how the minds of these two work (spoiler warning, Edmondson's mind works mostly by swearing at a problem until it goes away). If it's acting, it's fantastic acting.

Leela is both an important force in the narrative, preventing it from turning into a downwards spiral of aggression between the two, shall we say more mature gentlemen, while also letting the play poke a bit of fun at how out of date they are in today's world. Gary's assertion that "I'm not Weinsteining you" is perhaps the most pointed (and most uncomfortable) example of this, but it toes the line somewhat between dismissing and glorifying some of the behaviours that are now less acceptable.

That does lead to a couple of moments where the tension is troublesome, which are broken in the time honoured manner of metaphorically having "a man come through the door with a gun". Here, the gun is the ever tilting trailer, not best positioned on a moving glacier, which allows a couple of moments of slapstick. (Incidentally, my favourite physical moment included an armlock. You'll have to watch the play to see who did it.) This is achieved by the ever handy stage lift, and does get funnier each time it happens. These two haven't forgotten their roots.

Some of the dialogue streams are ones you've likely heard before if you're a fan of the "behind the scenes" genre, but it's the delivery that sells it here. Edmondson is in fine form both in his exuberant dismissive style (his "oh fuck off!" is still one of the best out there) and in the more introspective moments, but I think Planer just steals the edge as "man of the show", to borrow a sporting metaphor. His restrained mien, with chinks showing through the precise mannerisms, was very good indeed. Mostly funny, a bit thinky, definitely worth watching.

Score 5

Tagged: Theatre Comedy Cast Black comedy