Review by Raphael Kohn
As the rather lengthy title of this play suggests, this is not the most light-hearted comedy you’ll ever see. But who wants light and fluffy when you can be entertained by a darkly humorous play in an intimate venue with a star cast and creative team? Not me, most certainly.
At first glance at this play’s title and poster, it may look as if it’s an existential comedy about being at risk of death near an active volcano. You’d be right in thinking so – this whip-smart three-hander puts two actors, feuding and bickering like an old married couple, into a rather precarious situation, the escape from which seems ever more likely by the minute. Stuck inside a film crew trailer, Hugh (played by the sparkling Samuel West) and Gary (brought to life by the effervescent Rufus Hound), our film actors, rediscover old disagreements and arguments as their runner Leela (Nenda Neururer), tries to hold the peace just enough to keep their trailer from falling off the edge.
As they bring up past battles – roles they never played, people they’ve in turn angered, allied with or had past relationships with – the chance of escaping their situation seems continually less likely, with their trailer slipping towards the edge as the moving glacier they appear to be on (which Leela cheerfully tells us is ‘only’ moving ‘about 3 to 4 centimetres per day’). Their character traits are apparent immediately – Hugh is amusingly arrogant, while Gary’s initial nasty exterior gives way as the play goes on to show a touch more depth.
It seemed unfortunately bad timing for the characterisation of Gary to be quite so horrible, especially to Leela, with the allegations of sexual harassment surrounding Russell Brand to be so prominent in the media. Certainly, this cultural context at present did not paint the part of Gary in a good light, whose inappropriate advances and comments towards Leela, as well as his attitude toward a multitude of women in general, were uncomfortably reflective of the situation. Likewise, borderline homophobic attitudes from Gary didn’t land as they should, not quite as satirical as they should be. While characters who are flawed, and politically incorrect, can, of course, exist and be amusing in theatre, It’s Headed Straight Towards Us doesn’t quite strike the tone right with this, not outright condemning Gary for his behaviour the way that it should.
That aside, however, the writing is generally excellent. Reuniting The Young Ones stars Nigel Planer and Adrian Edmonson, this pacy comedy is full of sparkling one-liners to set the theatre alight with laughter. Packed with punchlines and going from strength to strength, the script is tight and witty, a laugh-a-minute delight. The story is clever and punchy, never too niche as to be inaccessible to those less familiar with the film and tv industry – if there is only one gripe I have with it, it is that the second act, while largely well-written, finds itself slightly derailed towards the end, lacking proper closure. Perhaps there was an intellectual metaphor at play there – but unfortunately if there was one, it must have passed me by. Tying the production together, keeping the performers on their toes and the pace fast is director Rachel Kavanaugh, whose intelligent direction brings out the comedy in the text without compromising any of the darkness at all.
Of particular note are the very smart fight moments, directed superbly by Ruth Cooper-Brown, that truly take you by surprise and are executed so slickly, you can barely work out whether you are gasping or laughing at what has taken place. Not overused as a gimmick either, with the majority of the characters’ fights happening verbally, they only happen for a few moments – yet they are instantly memorable.
This all takes place on Michael Taylor’s smart set – initially drab with its grey colour scheme, but giving way to Mark Doubleday’s intelligent lighting design that conjures up everything from a storm to a helicopter. With just a few sofas and doors, yet a very clever trick up its sleeve (it would be an insult to Taylor’s creativity to spoil this!) that becomes more exciting as the play goes on, his clever design is a huge asset to the production. Taylor’s creativity extends also to his costuming, which includes not just Hugh’s smart suit and coat, but also the most garish – but also hilarious – lobster-based costume for Gary.
Leading the piece is Samuel West as Hugh, who carries most of the dramatic weight while also being the butt of the joke at times. The posh boy who comes from a lower social class than he sounds, Hugh seems to be much of the centre of the action at times, and West brings out such authenticity to the role that it is as if the role is written for him. Rufus Hound’s Gary, while written a touch problematically, is his hyperactive, bullish counterpart which he plays with so much enthusiasm, it at times becomes slightly too energetic for my liking, but is still greatly amusing. The seriousness mainly comes in the form of Nenda Neururer’s Neela, who tries desperately to keep the two actors from killing each other, who brings just the right amount of balance to the role.
At times, I wonder if this play should have been named It’s Headed Straight Towards The West End – at least, that’s what I hope happens with this darkly funny comedy. Packed to the brim with punchlines, and with three great performances at its core, It’s Headed Straight Towards Us is another excellent outing for the Off-West End Park Theatre. Pacy, witty and laugh-out-loud funny, it’s a brilliantly entertaining evening.
It's Headed Straight Towards Us plays at Park200 at the Park Theatre until 20th October 2023. Tickets are available from https://parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/its-headed-straight-towards-us/
Photos by Pamela Raith