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Vulcan 7

by on 23 October 2018

Waiting for Volcan-o

Vulcan 7

by Nigel Planer and Adrian Edmondson

Jonathan Church and Theatre Royal Bath at Richmond Theatre until 27th October, then on tour until 10th November

Review by Andrew Lawston

Jimmy Cagney once said, “They pay me for the waiting. I throw in the acting for free.” In Vulcan 7, respected character actor Hugh Delavois (Nigel Planer) and faded Hollywood A-lister Gary Savage (Adrian Edmondson) demonstrate Cagney’s old line at Richmond Theatre this week as they skulk in Hugh’s trailer on the set of a blockbuster which is filming on an unexpectedly active Icelandic volcano.

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Nigel Planer and Adrian Edmondson are lead actors and also writers of this ambitious new comedy, and they have written a dense character piece that is closer to Waiting for Godot than to the style of anarchic comedy for which they first became known in the 1980s. Hugh and Gary squabble, sing, quote, reminisce, swear, and pile scorn on Daniel Day-Lewis.

The two fictional actors have not met for some time, and their previous encounter led to Hugh becoming a viral hit on YouTube as Gary poured custard over his head while he was having lunch with Alan Bennett (“the arbiter of British comedy”). Their initial spikiness is oddly unconvincing despite its vehemence, and sure enough the immense shared history of the two characters quickly overcomes their sometimes violent rivalry. The two ageing thespians come to realise their – never exactly mutual – affection, but rather that despite their different paths in life, they have both ended up alone and miserable.

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The cast of this three hander is completed by Lois Chimimba as Leela Vitoli, and she gives a fantastic performance as her status shifts throughout the play. She develops from being a put-upon junior crew member cajoling self-indulgent actors and bringing entertaining titbits of news from the film’s delayed production schedule; gradually becoming an equal partner as the volcano begins to stir and the three characters find themselves cut off from the rest of the film set.

The illusion of a bustling film set lying just beyond the trailer’s door is maintained by Leela’s constant interjections, and updates from her radio headset. We learn about her complicated relationship with Paul, and about Gary’s violent altercations with Jesus (“Has he found Jesus?” asks Hugh at one point, only to be corrected with the Spanish pronunciation).

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Director Steve Marmion keeps the show moving at a great pace, and seems to have coaxed carefully measured performances from his two leads. If at times Adrian Edmondson in particular strays a little close to his Vivian persona from The Young Ones; that’s probably an inevitable consequence of his wearing an impressive giant lobster costume (for his role as Angry Thermidon, with just one line) for the whole of Act One. Angry Thermidon’s costume was so impressive that it probably ought to count as a fourth cast member. It was an outrageous combination of rubber suit and prosthetic make-up, but avoided going for any cheap laughs by also being completely plausible as a cinematic monster costume, and all credit to Sarah Stoddard for pulling it off!

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In terms of staging, Simon Higlett’s set is both a stunning recreation of a carefully soulless actor’s trailer, and a masterpiece of theatrical engineering. The play could quite easily be performed on a flat stage, but the spectacular tilt of the main set, aided by Philip Gladwell’s clever lighting effects (including the convincing depiction of a helicopter airlift!), raises the stakes incrementally throughout Act 2.

From the lurid action movie pastiche poster to the impressively bombastic score from recent Doctor Who alumnus Murray Gold, Vulcan 7 never misses an opportunity to poke affectionate fun at action films, from their stodgy dialogue onwards.

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Even the programme is an entertaining revelation, with a double page spread reproducing the day’s “call sheet” and risk assessment that no one ever reads, but to which Leela refers throughout the play, with increasing exasperation. The attention to detail is quite magnificent, and the piece was apparently written with significant input from Adrian Edmondson, referring at one point to his recent turn in The Last Jedi.

By the time the play approaches its climax, Jimmy Cagney’s famous quote could be replaced by a Noel Coward line: “Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington.” The two actors have both changed their names and denied their roots, effectively even making a performance of their own private lives. As they take it in turns to plead with Leela for some kind of vindication, their misery is finally laid bare. The brightly-lit sitcom feel of the first scene, where Adrian Edmondson scampers around the trailer while dressed as a giant lobster, is replaced completely by a much more sombre tableau.

Vulcan 7 is first and foremost a highly entertaining new comedy that provides a masterclass in the effective use of swearing to heighten dialogue, but its reflections on the acting profession, performance, and the volatility of identity, make it well worth a watch.

Andrew Lawston
October 2018

Photography by Nobby Clark

From → Drama, Reviews

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