Johnny Vegas has always embraced the unexpected. If the uninitiated walked into one of his notorious stand-up shows, they could be forgiven they were watching a man in the throes of a mental breakdown, while his show for the 2007 Manchester International Festival played to just 30 people a night in a semi-detached house.
For this year’s MIF, Vegas has admitted he didn’t have a name or even a fully fledged concept for his show by the time of the press launch – which makes And Another Thing‘s ambition all the more impressive. Set in the world of TV shopping channels, the play’s unique selling point is a live link-up with Ideal World, a genuine home shopping network. This isn’t an excuse to poke fun at home shopping or the people who watch such channels though; rather, this is a character study of two people who have to remain resolutely professional while their lives are falling apart. Full of typically Vegas pathos, it may not be the most hilarious of scripts, but it’s certainly a compelling concept.
Vegas plays Bryan Chadwick, home shopping veteran and a man “who could sell a sense of shame to Rupert Murdoch”. His partnership with up and coming presenter Lindsay is breaking sales records, but the relationship cracks when floor manager Andy (the brilliant Kevin Eldon) lets slip that Lindsay’s been offered her own sales line to promote.
The audience are allowed glimpses of Bryan and Lindsay’s conversations while the cameras are off as well as their on-camera sales patter, and the tragedy of their lives is gradually laid bare. Lindsay is an agoraphobic living in her dressing room, while Bryan is hiding the fact that his wife left him some time ago and he is secretly in love with his young co-star.
Acting-wise, this is no real departure for Vegas: like most of his characters, Bryan is making us laugh one minute, then seeming on the verge of tears the next. Although he’s often bullying and manipulative, Vegas’ charm keeps him on the right side of likeable. And while Eldon is typically excellent (as well as taking on directing duties), it’s Emma Fryer who steals the show with her gloriously winsome and vulnerable performance as Lindsay.
The attention to detail is fantastic; it really does feel that we’re eavesdropping in a genuine TV studio, with the cameramen flicking through magazines and texting when the cameras aren’t rolling, and the live broadcast is genuinely exciting: although quite what the audience at home made of Vegas suddenly appearing trying to flog hanging baskets while the audience guffaws in the background is anyone’s guess.
There are some definite flaws here though; even at 75 minutes, the script seems a bit too drawn out, and during the live broadcast, the positioning of the cameras means that much of the audience’s view is blocked out. The production feels like it might have benefited from a more focussed approach and yet, even in its current form, it’s entertaining – a typically unconventional diversion.