A Serious Play about WWII, VAULT Festival

by guest critic Tom Brocklehurst

Sometimes you catch a show on it’s way to greatness, which is one of the joys of seeing shows at an early stage. However, if they’re not advertised as work-in-progress, the audience can leave feeling shortchanged and disappointed.

Such was the case with A Serious Play about WWII. At the end, the performers admitted: “This is our second night of the show – and we’ve left you some feedback forms on the chairs.” And while there was lots to recommend about it, this show definitely still needs some polish.

It starts as a comically bad play about World War II – supposedly chronicling the life of young Hirshel Gunzberg as he grows up in Austria. And wouldn’t you know it, Hirshel is here tonight, and is very angry about what he’s seen. He comes up on stage to accost the performers and promptly has a heart attack. The ensuing chaos takes up the rest of the running time, much in the style of a classic farce.

Wills & Vere have some comedy pedigree (as they keep reminding the audience) and it shows here. There are some laugh-out-loud moments in this show: some excellently choreographed slapstick, and some great comic lines. George Vere brings out his best psychopathic Rik Mayall impression, and Adam Wills is perfectly hapless as the unwilling accomplice. It’s almost like an episode of Bottom where they start a theatre company. And I mean that as a compliment (mostly).

However, for every great piece of slapstick, there is a bit that doesn’t quite work. For every great line there is a section of awkward dialogue. The bad play at the beginning could be so much worse, and by that I mean, much funnier.

However, you can see that Wills & Vere have a natural chemistry, and can find funny elements in most situations. As the show gets developed it will get funnier – they’ll cut the slow bits and improve the better bits.

The other actors don’t seem to be quite on the same level as the two leads yet, maybe they haven’t been working together very long, but it’s possible that the company will find a natural rhythm further down the line.

By the time it hits Edinburgh, this show may well have enough about it to prove a hit. However, it currently needs a fair amount of work before they can call it a polished piece.

A Serious Play about WWII runs through 18 February.

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