What would you do if you knew the world was facing a global disaster and you didn’t have long to live? I guess we’ve been finding out lately. Sometimes a play has to wait to be of the moment and with recent and current events forming a new kind of backdrop, Top Story by Sebastian Michael is a play whose time has definitely come. Alright the global threat is from a meteor strike rather than a pandemic but seven years after its original outing the echoes and resonances in the play can be rather chilling and have turned what was a speculative comedy into something more akin to speculative documentary.
The play centres on the bromantic friendship of two twenty somethings, Gus and Talfryn who, while at the latter’s London flat, learn the news that Los Angeles sized meteor George is about to crash into the planet and destroy the world. Very soon the shops are cleared of supplies, the transport system stops running and the media conduct a 24/7 rolling news investigation of the crisis. The two young men, after considering a number of other alternatives, then basically self-isolate. All a bit too close to home?
Our lovable heroes spend the next seven days more or less avoiding the outside world in the shape of Gus’s girlfriend and Talfryn’s mum with whom they are having obvious communication difficulties. However, with each other they learn to become much more open and supportive as they speculate, philosophise, reinvent the rules of chess, learn to play whist with their feet (seriously) and form a serious emotional bond. From time to time they turn on the TV which, as indicated, is always featuring the impending disaster perpetually fronted by glamorous presenter Chrissie Craven. Most of her studio guests, the foreign correspondents and the weatherman seem set to make a pass at her before the world ends. There are also two angels, Alphon and Raoul, who comment on the activities they see and consider weighty problems of literally universal dimensions. They seem to represent age/wisdom/experience and youth/truth-seeking/innocence respectively and be Gus and Talfryn’s guiding spirits.
To be honest I found this last aspect of the play somewhat unnecessary and wordy. By the time the angels appeared I had invested in Gus and Talfryn’s story and just wanted to follow that. I think the excision of the angelic characters would also have made the play rather leaner and more effective. The main story, however, is rather more engaging and the performances of Lewis Goody (Gus) and Ed Pinker (Talfryn) are sparky, assured and very quickly win the audience over. Pinker’s flights of optimistic fancy are particularly well done and are contrasted by Goody’s initially rather more earthy approach to what is left of his character’s life. By the end the latter has moved more towards the former’s way of looking at things and we are rooting for the pair to solve the crisis.
Gus and Talfryn are classic sit com flat-share characters in the vein of The Likely Lads, Men Behaving Badly and Bottom. The most obvious antecedent is Waiting For Godot, a play in which two men await their fate while discussing life, the universe and everything in it. However, I was more forcibly reminded of the work of Tom Stoppard. There’s a discussion about dice rolling and randomness that comes perilously close to the coin tossing sequences in Rosencrantz and Guildernstern Are Dead and the heroes of Top Story are dead ringers for R and G. The angels’ discussions about the nature of the universe are also very Stoppardian in tone.
The drama was recorded in the underground Vaults in London which gives it a highly appropriate atmosphere and is well filmed. The drama plays out on a series of Chesterfield sofas which are wheeled into various configurations by the cast. Adam Berzsenyi Bellaagh’s direction is generally tight and assured while Richard Lambert’s lighting and Geoff Widdowson’s sound cleverly enhance the mood of the piece. From the glamorous clothes of the TV presenter, to the white boiler suits of the angels, to the casual outfits of the heroes, costuming is effective though I did wonder why Gus’s socks kept miraculously switching from being green to black, then green again; perhaps that was the angels up to some mischief.
Top Story is an interesting play made more so by the current situation in which we find ourselves. Watching it won’t take you far from the current cooped up lockdown from which we are shortly to emerge but it may give you some interesting ideas about how to pass your time until you can get back to the pub. Or, if you’re like me you could always just stream another play.
Production photos by Foteini Christofilopoulou
Top Story will be available for the duration of the pandemic on You Tube. Click here
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