Paradise in the Vault
Vichy Goings On is the latest play from the pen of Ben Blow and the RFT, or Reality Funds Theatre. It’s a historical dramedy that twists and turns through a series of increasingly outlandish conspiracies, betrayals and revelations.
The narrative follows Albert Ogilvy, a British spy turned wanted man, chased across oceans, borders and continents by various government agencies. Ogilvy spends the play largely being knocked out, beat up, kidnapped, escaping and being captured again. There’s stolen gold, a secret nazi base and subterfuge a-plenty, with two of the six cast members, Ben Blow and Jonathan Whiteside, playing multiple roles with agility and to great comedic effect.
The story is one that could have gone either way for me: The success of Vichy Goings On hinges on historical detail, audience expectations and comedic timing. A friend I saw it with put it succinctly when she said ‘Do I have the emotional energy to watch a show where people call themselves “nice nazis”?’ Apparently we did: needless to say, from the first scene we all snickered, chortled and once or twice screamed with appalled laughter.
Vichy surprised me, foremost, because the promotional materials put out by its creators, Ben Blow and the RFT, were focussed on creating a sense of mystery, building hype for a show that relies heavily on dramatic reveals and plot twists. In this they succeeded, but there was an unanticipated side effect: right up until the end of the first scene I had no idea the play was a comedy! I underwent a kind of mental re-calibration in the first couple minutes, and have a memory (though probably imagined) of physically turning my head, getting an angle on the scene before me. The dialogue is not stilted but tongue-in-cheek, the femme fatale character is a challenge to the trope, the protagonist is more straight man than tortured antihero.
Many Fringe shows bank on the relatability of their subject matter in order to get bums on seats: students, mothers, yoga practitioners, millenials, people who hate millenials. Not so in this case. I would go so far as to call Vichy’s subject matter perilously, bravely niche. But that’s what made it, for me, such a welcome departure from the everyday festival fodder. I approached with an open mind and was happily rewarded.
It’s John Le Carré meets HP Lovecraft, a fast-paced, tongue in cheek noir comedy that intertwines political intrigue and cosmic horror. Vichy causes characters and audiences alike to question what they think they know, and shows what can be achieved by a small cast in a small venue. I enjoyed every minute, and encourage you to see it.