Bush Theatre, London W12
Opened 15 December, 2000

The National Theatre of Brent's two-man Nativity returns, as deliberately rubbishy as ever and quite hilarious, not to mention poignant.

Patrick Barlow's alter ego Desmond Olivier Dingle is a great comic creation: pompous, puffed-up and quite talentless, staging a series of theatrical folies de grandeur with just himself and his entire acting company, Raymond Box (John Ramm). The Messiah, first seen in 1983, is one of their greatest hits, and one can see why. I usually have problems with comedy of embarrassment, but these two characters have such an ironclad belief in their crappy little doings that they are largely beyond embarrassment as they wrap their heads in tea-towels, ride on imaginary donkeys and make dreadful jokes about the "soukh of the day".

Because Dingle and Box are not simply ridiculous figures: with their petty spats, underlying comradeship and loyalty, they are also endearing, and as these traits seep into the biblical scenes they present to us, they can conjure up moments of quite unexpected potency, as between the bickering yet loving Mary and Joseph. The audience response is one not of derision, but of affirmation: at heart, we recognise, we're all this daft, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Written for

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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