Vulcan 7 takes to The King’s Theatre Edinburgh stage this week (Mon 5 to Sat 10 Nov) re-uniting Adrian Edmondson and Nigel Planer as two actors in their sixties who, from their student days at RADA, have had more than a few personal issues with each other throughout their lives and careers. What different careers though, one never really achieving that much (if anything) and the other achieving international stage and film stardom only to see his star not only fall, but shatter into many pieces when it hit the ground. Both find themselves unwittingly re-united on an ongoing film series about the Roman God of fire and metalworking – Vulcan. The film is Vulcan 7.
I have to admit that when I first saw this title my immediate thoughts were of another Vulcan – Mr Spock - and I think that my favourite Vulcan had more humour in him than this production. As well as starring in this production, Adrian Edmondson (Gary Savage) and Nigel Planer (Hugh Delavois) have also co-written this production, and much of the humour is a return to their early success in The Comic Strip Presents and The Young Ones, and that is where the problems start as few things date worse than comedy. I remember “The Young Ones” but it was very much of its time and I also have huge respect for both Adrian Edmondson and Nigel Planer as they have both achieved so much in their careers since these early productions and shown real skill and depth as actors over the years. This production sadly allows neither of them much of an opportunity to show those skills on-stage.
Adding some diversion to our two characters is film production assistant Leela (Lois Chimimba). Lois does a good job here, but her character really has little room to explore any part of this story in any depth as her main role is as a comedic foil or straight person to our two stars.
There are for me more than a few problems with this production, and most are in the script. If you are an actor, or involved in some way with film, stage or television production at any level then this is at one level a skilful portrayal of all the in-jokes amongst the profession. In here there will be someone, or at least elements of someone, that you will probably know. This though is potentially targeting an “in on the joke” segment of your audience rather than a wider one.
The second issue with this production is its over reliance on someone swearing in an attempt to get a laugh, If you still for some reason find the utterance of a “sweary word” something that still prompts laughter in you then you will love this show. If however, like myself, you stopped to find someone shouting a “sweary word” funny somewhere in the middle years of Primary School then much of the humour here will be lost on you.
This is a comedy, and on some levels it does work, and there are a few genuinely funny lines here. Comedians often for some reason instinctively understand the darker side of emotions, and comedy can produce some wonderful dark theatre when required. At times, we do start to get an insight into the real emotions of our two characters and Nigel and Adrian make the switch between the two well. Both are actors more than capable of exploring this mixture of darkness and tenderness on stage, but for some reason, just as you think the story is going down that road, the inevitable happens and “the sweary word” comes out again to get a few more unnecessary cheap laughs.
Misfiring humour, or humour belonging to a time long gone, seems to be part of a bigger problem here, particularly when attempts to make it contemporary for me fail. Trying to get a few minor laughs out of the #MeToo movement are not working and potentially mocking a very serious issue (particularly for this industry). Worse than that, the outdated and dinosaur period attitude of our characters (and I mean Hugh and Gary here and not the real life Adrian and Nigel) towards women in general and their outdated comments only go to illustrate why a #MeToo movement was always going to have to happen, sooner or later in not only the film/stage profession but many others.
Vulcan 7 has genuine potential to be both funny and poignant. Somewhere along the road though it fails to do either properly; even the Daniel Day Lewis and his cobbler days jokes start to wear thin here with over-use.
Review by Tom King