Saving Mr Ultimate by John McEwan-Whyte at theSpace Triplex is the debut show of Extra Arca, a young theatre group within New Celts Productions, a consortium of young theatre companies from Edinburgh Napier University and Queen Margaret University.
The cast revel in the humour but also dig into the darker depths.
'Mr Ultimate’s Emporium' is closing down, following the death a few years earlier of Paul (Andrew Nimmo) and Barry’s (Charlie Devlin) father. As established purveyors of comic-books, Paul, who is only seventeen, wants to keep the family business running in memory of his dad, even though it’s heavily in debt. His brother, who is eight years older, has other ideas; in particular of emigrating to Australia. Also involved with the shop are the lovesick employee Liam, the highly stressed manager Abbs (Caitlin Knight), their ever cynical mate Will (Fin Watt) and – to make life just a little less bearable – Barry’s insufferable girlfriend, Annabelle (Eleanor McMahon). The company is well cast and each member creates an idiosyncratic individual.
Paul, clearly immersed in the fantasy world of cartoon characters, decides he has only one option to save the day; draw on the superhuman powers of his comic-book hero Mr Ultimate. Thus dialogue moves into the fantasy world of wild escapades and epic adventures. Even when in the real world, dealing with practical issues, the imagery, metaphors and similes are all drawn from a make-believe existence of fictional characters. This escapism hides another issue. Paul was only eight when his father committed suicide and while Barry was of an age to better deal with it and move on, Paul was not. For him, the comics and his father are inextricably bound; he’s never let go of his father and won’t let go of the shop. The conflict between him and his brother is inevitable.
André Aguis has created a production centred around the seemingly endless task of packing the comics into boxes, that is, not surprisingly, action-packed and fast-paced. He brings out the humour, the conflicts and the tragedy. Bound by a script that early on rather overplays the myriad fictional events, the play achieves more resonance in its latter stages. The cast respond to this with sincerity and the real-life issues become increasingly absorbing.
Saving Mr Ultimate is a fun play that quirkily illustrates the veneer that many people place over their lives to hide what is going on beneath the surface. The cast revel in the humour but also dig into the darker depths.