Stars of celebrated 80s sitcom The Young Ones Adrian Edmondson and Nigel Planer are on the road with their new comedy play, Vulcan 7.
Writing together for the first time as a pair, they appear as Gary Savage [Edmondson] and Hugh Delavois [Planer] who were once students at RADA together. Now in their sixties, they meet in an Icelandic wasteland, on the set of a fantasy movie. Hugh has had a plodding career but has landed the small but regular role of Vulcan‘s butler and he’s making his seventh film for the franchise. Gary is a one-time Hollywood A-lister who has fallen on lean times, and is playing a guest monster with four hours in make-up and one word in the script. Sparks fly inside the trailer as old wounds are opened and tensions rise.
Adrian Edmondson spared time between rehearsals to chat about reuniting to work with ‘old friend’ Nigel, hanging around on the set of Star Wars, his own comedy influences and how moving forward is the only career direction he’s ever been interested in heading…
How is it working alongside Nigel Planer again for Vulcan 7?
It’s going very well. We’ve never really been a pair before although we’ve known each other for forty years nearly. So it’s a bit like finding an old friend.
You’d talked about doing a project together for quite a while, I believe?
That’s right, for about twenty-odd years. We kept sending each other other people’s plays and couldn’t find one that we liked and eventually decided to just write one ourselves.
So Vulcan 7 is not autobiographical in terms of yours and Nigel’s relationship?
It plays on the world that we know, it plays on the kind of thing that all people have when you haven’t seen someone for a while. There’s lots of reunions that happen these days, people sit in a room and measure each other. Measure your own success and failure. Even my own daughter’s had that, she left school and about five years later they had a meal and one girl stood up and said ‘So who’s the most successful out of all of us, do you think?’ meaning, of course, herself. [Chuckles] It’s a common trait, I think.
Do you think that’s common with actors as such or humans in general?
I don’t think it’s confined to actors. I think everyone who’s secretly, any kind of similar career path, you must have people that you either envy or laugh at. You only do it privately and secretly but in this play we do it openly and viciously.
I saw your adaptation of Bits Of Me Are Falling Apart at the Soho Theatre in 2016. Its theme explored looking to your past and how to look toward the future, is that something that’s been on your mind in recent years?
I think the more experience you have the more you can’t help looking backwards. It’s a necessary thing because you’re reminded of it by children and the fact that your parents are dying and things like that. You kind of see where you are and try to work out where you’re going. I think if anything it gets more confusing when you’re older than it is when you’re younger. People when they’re young think they don’t know what the fuck they’re doing but old people are even worse.
There’s no wisdom of the years then, it’s still figuring out what the next step is?
I don’t think anyone’s got any wisdom which is the most frightening thing about politics. I don’t know anyone personally with any real wisdom.
Just experience good or bad?
Yeah and it never helps them achieve anything better or worse. The whole of life is just one huge long messy accident / car crash.
Well don’t be so upbeat about it, Ade.
[Laughs] I think if you embrace that it’s quite fun.
To know that no matter what it’s going to end in a mess?
Yeah, exactly, let’s just carry on. Let’s enjoy it while we’re here y’know.
You just mentioned that you’ve lost parents and other influences. We recently lost Ray Galton of Galton and Simpson [Steptoe and Son, Hancock’s Half Hour]. I think their writing was an influence on you and Rik Mayall?
I remember when we sat down to watch the first episode of Bottom go out we thought ‘Oh Christ, they’re going to sue us.’ We basically nicked their act.
You can see the similarities, but I’m sure there’s lots of comedies coming through now that would say that The Young Ones and Bottom influenced them. Talking again about your work with Nigel. There’s a fan theory that Nigel should have played Spudgun alongside Christopher Ryan as Dave Hedgehog. Can you put paid to that idea?
There was never any suggestion that Nigel would be in Bottom. I can see why they’d think that because Chris is in it but no it’s untrue. He should have been in Waiting for Godot, he was lined up to be in Waiting for Godot that Rik and I did with Chris as a four hander. We thought the cast of The Young Ones should do it but Nigel hurt his back and couldn’t do that. But no he was never going to be Spudgun.
It was always Steve O’Donnell then?
Yeah Steve had been working with us on Comic Strip episodes and stuff like that and it needed a big bloke. Spudgun is a big bloke!
Have you been enjoying working with Nigel, would you work together again on another The Comic Strip Presents, perhaps?
It’s too far ahead. We’re sort of working on this as we go along. We’re adding bits and refining it so it’s quite enough to be going on with. We’ve got this for another month or so then we’re hoping to either move it into town or film it. Make it as a film, not a live event, but a film version.
Is that partially why there’s a Sci-Fi element in Vulcan 7?
There isn’t really any Sci-Fi in it. They’re making a film but it’s about two actors and a runner stuck in a trailer. The trailer is on a glacier in Iceland and the glacier is on top of a volcano and everything’s going to go wrong. It’s a Marvel-type thing about the god Vulcan.
So Sci-Fi’s the backdrop to the real tension bubbling between the actors?
Yeah, I’m an Ork-type character, I’m a Thermidon.
It certainly looks a very hot costume.
Yeah it’s very very very very very very very uncomfortable.
Did you write that in or was it Nigel?
Yes I did. My own stupidity.
You’ve created a rod for your own back then. You appeared in Star Wars recently, of course. Did you audition or were you asked?
No, I was asked because Ryan Johnson the director is a huge fan of Bottom. As a film student he’d got hold of some scripts, we’d published the scripts, and he’d got hold of the scripts before he ever got hold of the tape and he made a version with his friends. That’s how much of a fan he was. A bit geeky, actually. That’s how I ended up on that. Which very helpfully provided some material for this play because on the Star Wars set there’s a lot of people hanging around in trailers dressed in weird things.
Is it different doing film or TV in terms of the time hanging around?
It’s essentially the same. The more expensive the film is, there more hanging around there is. There’s a theory that every member of crew adds ten seconds to every shot. If you have a crew of 200 then, well, I can’t do maths, but it’s quite a lot. If you’ve got a guerrilla film unit and you can fit the whole crew in a minibus then you can turn over within 3 minutes of getting out the van. If you’ve got a crew of 200 it takes at least 20 minutes to turn over and there’ll be more complications. There’s a lot of waiting.
Are there any tour stories between you and Nigel so far, is it like being back in the rock’n’roll days of Bad News?
Bad News wasn’t very rock ‘n’ roll! Because we’re working, we’ve re-written the first act quite extensively so we’re working every day rehearsing and then performing at night so there’s no time for rock ‘n’ roll. The whole point of the tour is to knock it into shape rather than say this is a finished article. I think that’s the best way to work, to keep tugging at things and make sure you get them to be the best thing they can be.
I think you’ve said previously that if you’re not working and moving forward then what’s the point? Would you say you’re a little bit of a workaholic or perfectionist in that way?
I hate the word perfectionist when people say it of themselves as it sounds prissy, doesn’t it? I like niggling at things. There comes a time when you have to stop. I’ve been doing children’s books and you can tinker and tinker and tinker and then there’s a time it has to go to the printer. But what’s the point of stopping before then?
Do you prefer writing alone or in a pair?
I prefer writing in a pair as it’s very sociable and it’s quite a lot quicker. You get instant feedback on your ideas. You’ve got to trust each other a lot in a partnership. You’ve got to be allowed to make ideas that the other person doesn’t like and they’ll not tell you ‘that’s a shit idea’ but you can just tell by their attitude that it’s not going in.
That works vice versa too, I suppose? Have you had any arguments over bits you really want to keep in?
No, we have discussions, not arguments. We’ll put our case either side and generally I think you both have to agree if something’s going in the script. That’s the rule. It works quite well. I did it for years with Rik, I did it with a guy called Nigel Smith for a radio and TV series [Teenage Kicks]. It’s good fun.
I can imagine. Working alongside Rik Mayall must have been but I’m sure a lot of hard work went into it as well as laughter?
Oh yes, a lot of it was just intense despair. [Laughs] ‘Oh why can’t we think of anything funny?’
Do you look back on the days of The Comic Strip and think about what a magic time it was that you all came together? There wasn’t anything you did to engineer it.
We didn’t do any engineering, we had a really bloody good time. We treated it as a party. I still try to do that. I don’t want to think of it as work, I want to think of it as something fun. How can I amuse myself today?
A few years ago you were quoted as saying you were going to turn your back on comedy. Did you say that or just wanted to hit the pause button?
At the time I probably thought I was doing something else. You know, I am a quixotic mind. There is nothing definite, that’s all I know. I remember saying about ten years ago that I would never do anything else other than music for the rest of my life [Laughs]. Things come to a natural end and you move on. I think it’s just an expression for the passion you have for whatever project you’re doing at the time. People say ‘What’s the best thing you’ve ever done?’ and I say ‘The best thing I’ve done is the thing I’m doing at the minute.’ I don’t sit at home watching re-runs of old programmes.
There’s a huge amount of affection for your previous work, especially Bottom and The Young Ones.
I’ve a lot of affection for it, too. Really, I’m doing the same thing as I was then which is that I want to do something new. That was the case back then so, in that way, I’m exactly the same.
There are still so many fans who want to celebrate your work and make sure neither you or Rik Mayall are forgotten.
I tell you what I particularly enjoy at the minute, I did a thing with the RSC last year and there was quite a few women in their early twenties in the cast. They were all fans of Bottom which I found extraordinary. At the time the impression was that Bottom was primarily watched by boys. Not men, boys. I was very flattered.
There are plenty of young women who’ve a very silly and infantile humour, too. In Bottom the writing really shines, it’s not just slapstick.
How old were you when you first saw it? Was it an old programme?
I was eight when I saw it in the 90s. I was far too young to be watching it but my older brother and I watched it together sneakily.
I wouldn’t let my own children watch it when they were that young. [Laughs]
It’s warped many a child’s mind. In a good way! My brother and I still quote it to each other.
I do that with Python and The Goons. I do a lot of Bonzo’s [The Bonzo Dog Band] ‘Brrr, it is a little chilly today.’ I’ll say that at the drop of a hat. And Laurel and Hardy, bloody hell, when I was touring with The Bad Shepherd’s, Troy and I spent every van journey quoting Laurel and Hardy to each other. You’ll find in life there’s many situations that can prompt a line from Laurel and Hardy.
I’ll bet you’re sick of people tweeting you Bottom quotes constantly, though?
I’m sick of people tweeting ‘I miss Rik.’ That’s what bores me the most. Yes, I know that he’s dead. I don’t need reminding every ten minutes, thank you very much.
That must be difficult because we all miss Rik, I’m sure you more than most. But Rik would be delighted, I’m sure, to have you annoyed every ten minutes being reminded of him.
[Laughs] I’m sure he would! I shall think of that next time it happens. I’ll imagine it’s him.
Comedy legends Adrian Edmondson and Nigel Planer are currently on tour with Vulcan 7. To catch them in action see full listings information below:
Theatre Royal Bath
Monday 15 – Saturday 20 October
Sawclose, Bath BA1 1ET
Box Office: 01225 448815
Performance schedule: Mon – Sat 7.30pm, Matinees Wed & Sat 2.30pm
Monday 22 – Saturday 27 October
The Green, Richmond, TW9 1QJ
Box Office: 0844 871 7651
Malvern Festival Theatre
Monday 29 October – Saturday 3 November
Grange Road, Malvern, WR14 3HB
Box Office: 01684 569256
King’s Theatre Edinburgh
Monday 5 – Saturday 10 November
2 Leven St, Edinburgh, EH3 9LQ
Box Office: 0131 529 6000
Performance schedule: Mon – Sat 7.30pm, Matinees Wed & Sat 2.30pm