Phil Horton reviews Vulcan 7, a new comedy by Adrian Edmondson and Nigel Planer, on at Theatre Royal Bath until 20 October

Former enfant terribles of the early eighties, Ade Edmondson and Nigel Planer arrived at the Theatre Royal this week. Predictably they’re not in something by Wilde or Wesker, but in Vulcan 7, a new play written by themselves. The question is have they gone soft and will this be conventional fodder by a pair of less than youthful thesps topping up their pension?

So the erstwhile Vyvyan and Neil become Gary, one time top film star now reduced to bit parts, and Hugh, steady stage actor but now the lead. Actually they’re aging actors in a cheap sci-fi movie, the seventh sequel of a Vulcan franchise. Set on a glacier in Iceland, next to a ravine and near to a volcano, former support actor Hugh has the lead part while one time Hollywood A-Lister Gary – whose career path has headed downwards as his consumption of alcohol has increased – has one line and a complicated alien costume.

While Nigel Planer is still instantly recognisable even 40 years after The Young Ones, Ade Edmondson is not so much, particularly in the first half when he’s heavily costumed as a bulbous, reddened creature from another planet. The stage set is basically Hugh’s on-set trailer that the unwelcome Gary invades. The trailer on stage is quite brilliant, tipping up at successive angles as the nearby volcano erupts with suitably excellent sound and light effects – it reaches a final angle of around 45 degrees where standing vertically on set (for the applause) becomes quite a (comic) challenge.

While there’s lots going on off-set, we just get to see two ageing actors at the tail end of their careers debating their lot. Having been together since drama school they’ve always been aware of each other’s theatrical roles but have never been friends. Thus this is the ultimate opportunity to carp, mostly about each other but a few other actors come in for flak too, most notably Daniel Day-Lewis.

The only other part is long-suffering young runner/gofer Leela (a hard-working Lois Chimimba); taking exception to Gary’s old fashioned sexism, causing him to explain, “I’m not trying to push the boundary. I’m just trying to find out where it is. Today.”

Having a play set backstage, or in this case off set, is a well worn and mostly successful ploy, notably in The Dresser by Ronald Harwood, and Bennett’s The Habit of Art. This concoction has no such pretensions, being really a vehicle for the pair of actors to have fun and hopefully give some to the audience as well. From the reaction of the first night’s well-attended performance they largely succeed. There’s not too much plot but what there is surfaces in the much more successful second half as the actors’ earlier dalliances emerge. Ade Edmondson and Nigel Planer, while both excellent actors, are also obviously good at comedy, but to write and star in your own play perhaps needs a sterner hand on the tiller.

If you’re a fan of theirs, and this type of slightly over-the-top situational comedy, then this is for you.

Featured image by Nobby Clark