It’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, except there are four of them and they have been abandoned by their actor, Richard, who spends most of the play as a cardboard cut-out. Richard is the subject of hero-worship, neediness and resentment from his orphaned creations. A warning: this show is not for the weak of stomach or the faint at heart. Costume changes introduce us to Uncle Ted the failed comedian (sample joke: a pun on ‘Edinburgh’ and ‘head in bra’), Borstal boy Kevin, a gratingly cheesy life coach named Rudy Babylon, and Katia, a vampire/Romanian immigrant/Lady Gaga hybrid. Each one is an awful, awful personality. Some of the best moments took place off-stage, as Richard’s four voices bickered in the changing-room. As a left-field look at the concept of one man playing multiple parts, it’s fairly amusing. Unfortunately, most of the show is just an excuse to rub the audience’s face in increasingly more crude, grotesque and hackneyed antics by the alter egos. I chuckled, but I also couldn’t bring myself to care.
It’s hard to know what to make of a production that tries so hard to make you roll your eyes. Some of it is certainly funny, in a leering gasp-how-shocking way which recalls the worst excesses of a ‘Little Britain’. Granted, this show is meant to make you cringe. But it just doesn’t feel worth it, and I mostly found it off-putting, like listening to the in-jokes of a gang of obnoxious pre-teens. The alter egos are imaginative, and no-one could fault actor Richard Turner’s commitment to the bizarre, but they are one-note and long outstay their welcome. It’s all in danger of becoming tiresome long before a final act emerges to give it some semblance of being tied together. Even then, I can’t shake the feeling that it’s all been done better elsewhere.
I really wanted to like this show, mainly because Richard Turner is an excellent actor. His physical comedy is outstanding and the energy on stage is infectious. There is clearly a huge amount of talent and passion here, but little sign of the “bold and satirical look at the relationship between actor and audience” promised by the flyers. It’s not clear what the audience has to gain from being harangued by this play. If you want to laugh at dodgy jokes and beyond-the-pale comedy, then there are other places to see them. If you want to be challenged, plenty of deeper productions will do just that. ‘The Vanish Inquisition’ had its fans in the audience, and I’m sure it will be well-reviewed by others for whom it all clicked. Yet I walked away feeling a bit underwhelmed, to be honest.