Fifty years ago on a Hollywood sound-stage, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin pretended to land on the Moon. Relax, relax – I don’t really believe that’s what happened – but it’s the timely jumping-off point for this tall-story comedy, which imagines that the hoax Moon Landing was filmed in a household basement somewhere in small-town America.
The job’s been delegated to a minor functionary from the Department of Facial Equality – normally responsible for enforcing the state’s McCarthyite approach to moustaches. With just a week to deliver the goods, he recruits a maverick film director, who happens to bear more than a passing resemblance to Stanley Kubrick. Add in a musical-theatre performer, a square-jawed all-American and a prissy classical actor who’s offended to be cast in the Michael Collins role, and you have the fuel for the humour to soar.
But it doesn’t lift off. Some of the characterisation is intentionally hammy, and at one point an actor pretends to forget an obvious line; I was waiting for the camera to pull back and reveal this was some kind of Producers-style parody, but that moment never came. The pace picks up when some knowingly-ridiculous Russians arrive, Cossack dancing and all, but the stereotype soon reduces to questionable accents and silly hats. If you’re going to go for the ’Allo ’Allo vibe, you have to really go for the ’Allo ’Allo vibe – and this show doesn’t quite commit to it.
In fact, it doesn’t quite commit to anything. There are good ideas, such as a nicely-synchronised set of sound effects as a character throws a cardboard box around the stage, but they come and go too quickly to lend the show a consistent style. A farcical fight behind the film director’s back also has potential, but it would only be truly hilarious if we’d been primed to think that he’d go ballistic if he saw what’s going on. In the absence of such motifs, it’s all a bit confused, and the smattering of genuinely funny lines don’t have the impact they could or should do.
It’s a shame, too, that in a venue where less than half the audience sits facing the stage, they don’t do more to play to the sides; there were a few visual jokes at the start that my bank of seating literally couldn’t see. Unfortunately then, it’s all summed up by a line delivered by the fake-Kubrick figure… ‘I like the idea, I hate the execution’.