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Alice Dickerson

Top Story at The Old Vic Tunnels

It was always going to be hard to pull off a comedy which combines the mundane with the supernatural. This is a valiant effort, but it ultimately fails to match its own high ambitions.

Predictions of the end of the world appear very much en vogue at the moment. If you were given a week's notice that the world was going to end, what would you do? This is the premise at the centre of Top Story. Playwright Sebastian Michael believes that two young male friends would pass the time on the sofa, discussing girls, booze and chess.

That summary doesn't quite do Top Story justice. This is not Two Pints of Lager meets Armageddon. Michael's male protagonists, Talfryn and Gus, seek to make sense of the world as it nears it end, and engage in wandering, but searching conversation. 'Cosmic interludes' interrupt their pondering, as two angels in a parallel world engage in their own philosophical exchange.

So far, not bad. But these relatively sensitive and thoughtful scenes are interspersed with television clips featuring a beautiful, blond female presenter, who is chatted up by a succession of male reporters. There is nothing comic, or indeed cosmic, about this; it is simply predictable, crass humour.

It is difficult to believe any prediction of a meteorite hit on Earth; we have become so desensitised by Hollywood disaster movies. Only this week, it was announced that an asteroid – which had previously been predicted to have a one-in-200,000 chance of hitting earth, sometime in 2036 – will now not pass any closer to Earth than 31,000km. Even more unbelievable is Michael's supposition of how the world's population would react to the news that the world was going to end. Call me pessimistic, but I feel that a replication of the riots of summer 2011, on a global scale, would be a closer approximation that Michael's peaceful representation.

Sebastian Michael's play is nothing if not ambitious. He wishes to produce a thought-provoking, yet humorous consideration of the power of friendship and man's place in the universe. The cosmic interludes and television clips detract from, rather than add to, this premise. Top Story would have been far funnier if it had just been two blokes sitting on a sofa, contemplating life, the universe and everything.

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