Content warning: discussion of sexual assault.
Mark Twain famously encouraged artists to “write what you know.” Adrian Edmondson and Nigel Planer take this sentiment and twist it into “parody what you know” with their brainchild Vulcan7, written by and starring the pair. Despite the potential to entertain, with strong acting talent complemented by dramatic sound effects and an impressive set, the callousness with which current issues in the acting world were exploited undermined any humour or pathos, leaving an outdated and vaguely offensive production.
Set entirely inside an actor’s trailer, the play revolves around the reunion of two actors, Gary Savage and Hugh Delavois, on the set of science fiction film Vulcan7. While Savage enjoyed acting success in his youth, his erratic lifestyle and dependence on alcohol have since demoted him to the single-line role of “thermidon,” while his old adversary plays a recurring and significant part. Upon reuniting their ancient rivalry flares up, causing conflict that eventually dissipates into recognition of their shared experiences and suffering in the name of their art.
Both Edmondson and Planer were very convincing in their respective roles of Savage and Delavois, and their close relationship added an authenticity to their characters’ rivalry and reconciliation, which carried the play to its conclusion. Unfortunately, the story itself is far from original and the plot is predictable and formulaic, with cheap laughs and toilet humour giving way to moments of emotion that often felt forced.
However, the most problematic aspect of Vulcan7 is undoubtedly its interaction with serious political and social issues, particularly those pertaining to the acting world. Jokes about the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement, though obviously intended to be light-hearted, left a bad taste in the mouth in their trivialisation of sexual harassment and assault. The reproach of Leela, a runner that Savage makes unwanted advances towards, falls short of holding the character to account for his actions, and so humour is replaced by vulgarity.
The use of staging and sound is very effective in building tension as a volcano prepares to erupt offstage, causing mounting panic from Leela, played skillfully by Lois Chimimba, as well as an increasingly steep tilt of the trailer. Designer Simon Higlett showcases his creativity in communicating a natural disaster through such a sparse set, complemented by the melodramatic sounds provided by Mic Pool.
Overall Vulcan7 is disappointing in its engagement with issues still prevalent in the film industry today, undermining the comedic value of the production due to insensitivity and the trivialisation of serious social issues. In the current climate, theatre must hold itself to a higher standard and set an example of how to treat each other with respect and compassion. In this matter, Vulcan7 fails.
Image Credit: Nobby Clark