On the Ceiling

Nigel Planer
Garrick Theatre
(2005)

Publicity image

Nigel Planer made his name as Neil in TV's The Young Ones and has built a career on the border between straight acting and stand up comedy. He has now become a playwright and the producers have relied on his fame to sell tickets at a large West End theatre.

Regrettably, judging by a 25% house within a week of opening, On the Ceiling will not bring them the wealth that its unseen subject, Michelangelo, made.

The play is like an extended version of one of those productions on the Edinburgh Fringe that cannot make up its mind whether to list under comedy or theatre.

Lapo and Loti are fresco painters working for The Master on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the beginning of the sixteenth century. They are a comic double act who use twenty-first century language (and expletives) with gusto. This novelty is quite funny but wears off long before the two-hour play reaches its conclusion.

They bicker and insult the artist, referring to him in the feminine for no obvious reason. Following their joint sacking, the pair take to the road with a vaudeville act that might have gone by the name of Sistine - The Musical and is the show's low point.

The penultimate scene follows them back to the heights to admire the finished work and to imply that Michelangelo could only have achieved it with a little divine intervention.

The set, filled with rickety wooden scaffolding, and final sumptuous images both owe much to the ingenuity of designer Matthew Wright and are high points. There is also the opportunity to learn a little about the process of fresco painting. Otherwise, period is completely lost while the protagonists bitch about the boss and moan about lives that could as easily be contemporary.

Ron Cook and Ralf Little give the show their all but it is still not enough to lift a light comedy with a single comic idea to anything that would justify a night out, even if tickets are still apparently selling (for Saturday matinees at least) at preview prices.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher