wed 22/05/2024

It's Headed Straight Towards Us, Park Theatre review - indigestible mix of fact and fiction | reviews, news & interviews

It's Headed Straight Towards Us, Park Theatre review - indigestible mix of fact and fiction

It's Headed Straight Towards Us, Park Theatre review - indigestible mix of fact and fiction

Adrian Edmondson and Nigel Planer have muddled aims for a tale of warring actors

Rivalries on ice: Samuel West and Rufus Hound, with Nenda Neururer, centrePamela Raith Photography

An impressive performance by Samuel West as one of two warring hams stuck on-set in a trailer over a not-so-dormant volcano in Iceland, endlessly waiting to shoot their scene and go home, tended by a young runner whose woke values soon clash with their antediluvian ones...

This Park Theatre debut sounds like the makings of a decent farce, with maybe a nod to Beckett. But Adrian Edmonson’s and Nigel Planer’s It’s Headed Straight Towards Us has ended up an incompletely digested mix of digs at the acting world and Young Ones-y excess. 

The action begins in blackout with what sound like whale calls; then, for just a few seconds, a figure is spotlit — a grimacing red half-man, half-lobster. This turns out to be Gary Savage (Rufus Hound), which is not his real name (that’s Peter Henderson) according to Hugh Delavois (West), who doesn’t use his real name either, which is Melvyn Ponsonby; and Hugh isn’t actually posh, he reveals, whereas Gary’s dad was an asset-stripper. Hugh accuses Gary of going off to work on a Mike Leigh film and coming back a man of the people.

Right here the script makes you wonder what kind of satire this is supposed to be. Melvyn Ponsonby is a name The Beano might have come up with for a pretentious person. Fair enough if the play were a thorough-going surreal fiction, but spliced into it are the names of real directors, venues and thespians, in particular Daniel Day-Lewis, whose Method approach becomes a running joke. In tribute, Hugh is cobbling a shoe with specialist tools to pass the time. Gary is just hitting the booze, filched from the costume department. The play is also supposed to reflect the real-life spats actors have indulged in over the years. Gary and Hugh duly tussle over everything from the derisory size of Gary’s trailer, a “threeway”, to the roles they “stole” from the other, and more.

Another running joke is that Gary doesn’t know where he is, or why. Once a Hollywood action man, now he is playing an Angry Thermidon (pictured below), described by the runner as an “orcy. monstery thing”, in the seventh film in a series called Vulcan — a name that turns out to be his only line. Hugh has been cast as Vulcan’s butler, the latest in a series of similar roles. It’s perfect casting for this prissy man, a martyr to his excessive self-regard. West has obvious fun with the role, doing affected tai chi moves when sparring with Gary, warming up his voice in the loo with a stream of tongue-twisters that culminates in “JudiDenchJudiDench-JudiDenchJudiDench…” 

Gary, who typically deals in either sarcasm or boorishness, all at once notes perceptively that his fate is to remember lines: “It’s forgetting them that’s hard.” Hugh happily turns Gary’s recitations of chunks of plays into a game, calling out the source of the speech before the audience gets it. It’s a weird display of the writers’ erudition in amongst the buffoonery, which sees the two men scrap on the floor at one point. 

Nina the runner (Nenda Neururer) is a rather strident presence, trying to reassure the actors that the earth-moving they can feel — the set actually tilts at such moments — is the totally safe shifting of the glacier their trailer is parked on, just four to five centimetres a day. “What’s that in inches?” Hugh immediately demands. Gary reveals his age when he says he’d like to “give her one”. She in turn has ecological concerns that turn into daft woo-woo as she tries to tune into the mindset of local Inuits.

Rufus Hound in It's Heading Straight Towards UsThe second half promises either salvation or doom as the volcano comes to llife, while Hugh and Gary reflect on their lives. The best line comes from Gary, delivered with a hint of real sadness by Hound: “I never cooked a chicken.” After which he cries. It’s a signal of the family-less state of his life, despite his fathering of six — or is it seven? — children, always away on shoots, boozing and succumbing to temptation. Yet he is the one clearly immersed in acting, loving the take where suddenly everything works and he “flies”.

Hugh’s view of acting is as a series of humiliations at the hands of makeup teams and costume designers. He also resents seeing advertising hoardings on the side of his end-of-terrace house that feature giant images of actors more successful than he is. The list of stars he reels off at this point is pure fantasy: unless the ads were for their latest films: none of the actors he lists has endorsed a commercial product. So why include them?

As for Gary's assault on a whole front row of critics at the Menier theatre, where the Menier is thrown in as a sign of his slide down the acting ladder, here's a note to Ade and Nigel: critics never sit in the front row and rarely together. (I leave the Menier to protest for itself.) This name-dropping and in-joking become another sign of the writers' over-eagerness to score comic points. Gary and Hugh's enmity is intermittently funny but also unattractive and immature, until suddenly, just before curtain down, pathos descends. But they aren't rounded and realistic enough as characters to earn our sympathy, however hard the actors try. Neither are they total comic grotesques, like Vyvyan and Neil, just pathetic men unable to throw in the towel. 

Rachel Kavanaugh steers this lopsided ship as best she can, with good set and costume design from Michael Taylor. And there are probably enough well delivered one-liners to send people home happy. But the piece could do with a rethink.


Once a Hollywood action man, Gary is now playing an 'orcy, monstery' thing


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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