Theatre review: Vulcan 7, King's Theatre, Edinburgh

DO YOU remember the Icelandic volcano that erupted in 2010, grounding flights all over northern Europe? Adrian Edmondson and Nigel Planer, formerly of iconic 1980s television series The Young Ones, remember it too; and it's on the unstable ice-cap of Eyjafjallajökull that they have set their new touring play Vulcan 7, playing briefly in Edinburgh this week.

Nigel Planer is the rather stuffy Hugh Delavois, the perfect foil for Adrian Edmondsons Gary Savage, a booze-soaked hell-raiser full of regrets. Picture: Nobby Clark

Vulcan 7, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh ****

In outline, the play is not much more than yet another self-conscious showbiz comedy, in which Nigel and Ade play ageing actors Hugh and Gary, one a rather stuffy establishment figure who plays butlers, the other a booze-soaked 
hell-raiser who has blown a once-successful Hollywood career.

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Both are involved in the filming of a cult science fiction film called Vulcan, the seventh in a series; and the scene is set 
in Hugh’s comfortable on-site caravan, which Gary has just invaded in a rage after learning that the bit-part he is playing–as a monster in a ferociously uncomfortable rubber suit –only entitles him to a one-third share of an inferior trailer.

The play opens unpromisingly, as Edmondson’s Gary roars around moaning about political correctness and bullying the play’s third character, an impressively calm and competent film-set “runner” called Leela, played with poise by Lois Chimimba.

Sometime before the interval, though, Gary sobers up, and Edmondson starts to deliver a truly interesting performance as the wreckage of a man who could have been a great actor, while Planer – as ever – provides the perfect foil to his post-punk rage and self-disgust.

Meanwhile, the mountain itself starts to have its say; and as Simon Higlett’s set lurches and tilts, the play begins to look like a surprsisingly effective metaphor for the strange precariousness of our little islands of western comfort, in a world facing catastrophic change.

Vulcan 7 is not a great play, in any sense; and its interminable showbiz running gag about Daniel Day Lewis stops being funny long before the end. Yet its vision of two ageing men looking back in mutual dislike and regret, fighting over the paternity of whatever future there might be, and then perhaps facing the end together, is held together by a combination of talent and chemistry that remains unique, 30 years on.

And when Edmondson’s Gary finally begins to reflect on his life in fragments of the vast classic roles he strangely cannot expunge from his drunken brain, the effect is moving and slightly spine-shivering, as we realise that theatrical greatness can appear in the oddest and most damaged places, right to the end. - JOYCE MCMILLAN