STAGE REVIEW: Vulcan 7 - at the Festival Theatre, Malvern, from Monday, October 29 to Saturday, November 3, 2018.

THE co-writers, Adrian Edmondson and Nigel Planer, also appear as co-stars in this upstaged version of ‘The Odd Couple’, and the pair certainly have a great time hamming up all the humour from their dramatic tour-de-force in their new play.

The two stars play old rivals from their time together training as actors at RADA.

Hugh Delavois (Planer) has carved a busy, though low-key, career playing a series of B-list parts, culminating in the role of a butler in the successful Sci-Fi ‘Vulcan’ franchise now into its seventh feature film. His work is so undemanding, however, that he wiles away his time practising the art of shoemaking.

On the other hand, Gary Savage (Edmondson) began with stellar roles that led to several nominations for film Oscars. However, in recent years, problems with alcohol and dalliances with women, have brought his career spiralling out of control to a very low edge indeed.

And indeed, the play opens with Gary discovering himself in Hugh’s trailer on the set of the latest ‘Vulcan’ adventure which is being filmed in Iceland, literally on the edge of a recently active volcano.

He has sunk so low as to take on the most reviled form of role in the acting profession; in ‘skins’ dressed unrecognisably in full costume as an invading monster looking for all the world like a recycled reptile from a 1960’s ‘Dr Who’ series. In the film he only has one line; in fact only one word -‘Vulcan’- itself, which Edmondson mouths with all the loathing and despair that he can muster.

Hugh is revealed to be both the holder of a lowly MBE and to be bi-sexual, currently living with his erstwhile cat-sitter, Vladimir.

The rest of the first half is spent with them bickering over past injustices and resentments from which they draw every ounce of humour. In this they are ably assisted by Lois Chimimba as the harassed ‘runner’, Leela, who desperately seeks to keep the pair apart and into their respective costume or make-up tents.

Things get a lot more frenetic in the second half of the play, when the volcano rumbles into action; an avalanche launches itself down the hillside, cutting the three of them off from the rest of the film crew.

The trailer begins to tilt alarmingly as an eruption begins and the nearby crevasse widens into a fissure spewing molten lava around.

However, while this causes a general panic, the two protagonists begin to find connections, in counterpoint to their physical separation from the outside world.

While Hugh admits that his acting had never equalled that of his rival, Gary reveals that he is haunted by the memory of the past successes that he cannot now achieve; ‘it’s not remembering the lines, that’s not the problem, it’s that I can’t forget them.’ Innocently, they end up sharing Gary’s bed as their spirits revive.

When a member of the film crew makes a complaint against Gary for head-butting him, Hugh protects him by refusing to corroborate that the assault had taken place. And, in echoes from the early days of ‘The Young Ones’, bad language abounds when they reveal their mutual hatred of more successful actors than they; ‘Daniel-f*****g-Day-f*****g-hyphen-f*****g-Lewis.’

Finally, each in turn draws upon memories from the past that lead them to conclude that Leela could be, in fact, their daughter from a liaison with their long-term casting agent.

Gary touches real emotion as he recites the lines of the demented monarch from ‘King Lear’ describing his feelings towards her; ‘Do you see this? Look on her. Look, her lips.’ In a neat counterpoint, Hugh telephones Vladimir long-distance to forgive him for selling off all his furniture while he has been away.

With the trailer reaching ever more precipitous levels of tilt, Leela is rescued by helicopter. However, with lava raining down from the now red and angry volcano, there is no hope of rescue for the two protagonists.

The pair await their fate, Gary admitting finally that he had in fact always admired Hugh’s acting ability, and the play ends to the gentle sound of Hugh tapping away at his cobbler’s last before the trailer’s inevitable final descent into the volcano’s mouth.

I thoroughly enjoyed this production; the second half is well worth the wait.

It’s good to see two stalwarts of comedy keeping their creativity going, and enjoying every minute of it. I can just imagine them doing their writing in the pub, throwing ideas across the table; ‘let’s put Gary in a monster costume,’, ‘let’s get Hugh sitting on the toilet,’ ’let’s get them to believe Leila is their daughter’.

The plot is predictable, and draws on other sources, but it has other moments of pure invention, and the increasingly tilting trailer is a joy to behold. The production is more than just the Curate’s Egg. It is very good – in parts – literally.