‘Top Story’ at Old Vic Tunnels

The description of ‘An apocalyptic comedy’ would be enough to draw anyone to Top Story, performed in the obscure depths of the Old Vic Tunnels and written by Sebastian Michael around the idea that the world will be ended by a meteor the size of LA hitting LA and thus obliterating reality as we know it. The play focuses on two young men who confront the challenge that is, ultimately, their demise with barefaced ignorance – in the same way one might know of any event occurring, yet never actually accepting it as a reality.

Our two main protagonists are Talfryn and Gus, both likeable in a mild-mannered way, though considering the amount of stage time that is devoted to them it seems bizarre that they are both about as deep as a puddle and the time spent in their company is somewhat trying. Neither of the two appear to have any interests or worries other than if they have enough ale to last until the end of the world, therefore the first three-quarters of the play seem a little tedious.

There are brief moments of respite with the news team who are shown every seven minutes or so to inject some much needed humour and updates on the impending meteor. The team is led by Josephine Kime’s Chrissie, ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’ who spends her stage time being sexually harassed by interviewees, all played by Andy Hawthorn and Richard Matthews. It is these additions to the play that carries it, with excellent performances by the three of them, though the choice to have only one female character of seven seems odd and deliberate – as though women are an afterthought and plot device in the discussion and philosophical debate of an apocalypse.

For us to remember that this play is an interpretation of how the modern world would react to an approaching apocalypse discussion into ‘the meaning of it all’ is essential. To deal with this we are offered two angels as narrators, who appear intermittently to express their spiritual thoughts and questions.

The addition of angels seems surreal and, other than their wandering around the same stage, it is difficult to relate their desperate philosophical pondering to the rest of the play. Their debate is patronising rather than enlightening, nothing more really than the drunken and half-hearted spiritual debate before last orders in a pub in university.

The play has few technical faults – the script is adequate if a little dull, but quite honest and lifelike. The actors are all perfectly adept and skilled, the direction by Adam Berzsenyi Bellaagh is seamless. It is not the ingredient that is wrong but the recipe, despite picking up a little during the second half, it only comes to an abrupt and clumsy conclusion.

The main error within the play is perhaps its arrogance, described in the programme as ‘a Godot meets Rosencrantz & Guildenstern for the Facebook generation’. The problem with this hypothesis is that there is nothing discussed that is sophisticated enough to be compared with Beckett and the promise of comedy after an unnecessarily long first half ebbs the enthusiasm of the viewer. Perhaps the problem is that for the Facebook generation everything must be simplified and patronising to the viewer in order to offer them a sniff of understanding of the content.

Top Story runs until Saturday 2 February at:

The Old Vic Tunnels
Station Approach Road

Photo by Foteini Christofilopoulou

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