OLD KING COLE
Southwark Playhouse, London SE1
Opened ?? December, 1994

Whilst Ken Campbell peddles his solo weirdness at the Cockpit, a fringe venue south of the river is staging his early children's play about the amazing Faz, his feeble-minded assistant Twoo and their fiendish plan to nobble a sports contest so that weedy Baron Wadd can beat Cyril the Fiddler to the hand of drippy Princess Daphne.

Campbell has recounted how he set out to write a kids' show which avoided both fairy-tale adaptations and pantomime themes, taking its model instead from the likes of the Dandy and the Beano. He also once advised a young aspirant on how to write for children: "Write for adults only don't tell 'em!"  Old King Cole follows both these approaches to an extent: adults and youngsters alike relish the absurdity of Faz, a frankfurter between his fingers as if it were a Havana, asking innocently, "D'you mind if I sausage?" and the "sword that is blue is the sword that is true" routine (it's a good season for steals from Danny Kaye's movie The Court Jester).

Mehmet Ergen's production confounds expectations by pulling off on a shoestring budget a play whose climactic coup hinges around a special-effects binge; the most complex prop here is a hollowed-out washing machine, but the gags seldom seem to be sold short.

Victoria Jeffrey's sports commentator is a little reluctant to abandon her grown-up inhibitions in terms of acting style, and occasionally cramps the action of the contest itself. But Sam Parks a great, loping fox of a Faz keeps the silliness simmering nicely, and David Reid Kay successfully acts weedy even in a string vest which reveals that he's not an insubstantial bloke. The pasteboard jewel in the show's pretend crown, however, is Paul Kemp as Twoo; his amiable dimness suggests a South London Irish Setter as he lollops around in Faz's wake, pulling out of his innumerable pockets everything from an oil-can (empty) to a kipper-and-custard sandwich ("made with margarine," he apologises).

Not a big-time Christmas treat, but a fine way to pass an hour and a half for parents and children alike.

Written for the London Evening Standard.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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