Edinburgh Fringe 2015
When a strange artefact is discovered under a London tube station, it soon becomes apparent that something impossibly ancient is attempting to contact Professor Bernard Andromeda . What follows is more complex and time-bending than a Steven Moffat finale …
Last year, Tom Neenan delivered a quite beautiful MR James flavoured story – The Haunting Of Lopham House – that, despite the jokes and witty wordplay, was far too much of a love letter to ever be truly called parody. This year, the same affection is heaped on the back catalogue Nigel Kneale and related films like X – The Unknown, as Professor Bernard Andromeda discovers something impossible under an abandoned London tube line.
Anybody of a certain age or certain geeky DVD collection who can’t hear ‘Mars: Bringer Of War’ without wanting to tell you why British pubs emptied on Thursday nights in the fifties will have already recognised the above storyline as the opener to 1958’s Quatermass And The Pit, a TV series that is largely forgotten today, but can make a reasonable claim to having influenced much of today’s genre television, certainly in Britain. With Paradox, Neenan allows himself a few more moments of silliness and winking at the audience than he did last year, but as with the more tightly plotted Lopham House, still manages moments of genuine surprise and occasional emotion: one character in particular (that you probably shouldn’t feed after midnight) is a clear audience favourite, and would probably have done very well being sold as a keyring after the show.
Neenan plays a number of different characters as well as the titular Professor, including his own remote father (before he is listed amongst Persons Reported Missing), and the smart personal secretary with academic aspirations that would have been played by Barbara Shelley in the movie version. Andromeda is recruited for his very special knowledge by the British Alien Intelligence Taskforce, a special Unit of the government that has been investigating a mystery that quite literally has the professor’s name all over it. Once contact has been established, the team venture below London to investigate further. It’s not long before a state of emergency is declared, as all of the city is under the hobnail boot of something sinister.
As well as a couple of throwaway musical references, there are many lines of dialogue that pay dividends to the attentive sci-fi geek. If the names Harrison Chase or Alistair Fergus mean anything to you, you’ll be as happy as a fan boy able to return through a door once opened. The posters and promos crucially avoid making any mention of the Quatermass or Nigel Kneale, presumably so that any non-fans will not feel – well, alienated. That said, any aficionados in the audience will feel a warm glow of recognition. Equally, however, anyone uninitiated won’t feel left out: the main draw of this show is the charisma and charm of Neenan’s central performances and the verbal dexterity of his gags.
Next year, we demand that Tom Neenan bring something back for the Fringe. A PJ Hammond homage, perhaps, or indeed anything from ITC. Whatever happens, we wait with baited breath: Kneale before Tom.