Lyric Hammersmith, London W6
Opened 7 November, 2000

While French and Saunders pack the Apollo Hammersmith with a show that's big on structure but slight on laughs, just round the corner at the Lyric the musical comedy trio The Nualas take the opposite tack in every sense. Their show is simple: they perform some songs and rabbit between them. They are very funny: truly, in the first two minutes I laughed more than I had in two hours of F&S. Yet when I saw them, The Nualas were playing to a fifteen per cent house. The threesome (two Irishwoman and an Irish-Australian, who affect to present themselves as a sort of Flann O'Brien version of Fascinating Aida) made repeated, mildly panicky references to the fact that their audience that night numbered precisely 82 in a 550-capacity venue, and to their management's confidence in booking them into such an opulent and, frankly, large venue; they know that they are more large club than medium-sized theatre material. But they plainly worked all the harder to compensate for their insecurity, and it paid off in big Lurgan peat-spades.

With a backing pianist and occasional guitar from "Down Under Nuala" (Josie O'Reilly), the musical component is basic generic stuff. They don't care so much about detailed parody of forms or arrangements; it is the lyrics that do the job, often rambling loosely around the metre and on only occasional nodding acquaintance with rhyme, but packed with surreal, tangential observations and gloriously daft turns of phrase. In an ode to "Donald Sutherland", they croon lovingly, "You're Canadian, but you don't bore me at all," and "Hip Replacement" sounds disconcertingly like a particularly harmonious 1960s girl group singing an Ivor Cutler number.

If anything, though, their patter is even funnier, with "Upbeat Nuala" (Anne Gildea) particularly and delightfully unable to shut up. On Thursday, on finding a genuine minor celebrity in the audience, all three took to almost literally flinging themselves at physicist Dr Simon Singh, without any real idea who he was... which, of course, only added to the comedy. There was also a hint that Gildea, O'Reilly and "No Nonsense Nuala" (Susan Collins) may have been privately playing the time-honoured game of "Bet you can't work this bizarre word into your lines". It really ought not to be long before the Lyric Hammersmith is on the small side for The Nualas.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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