The Bible The Complete Word Of God (Abridged)/Graham Norton/
David Strassman/The Architect/Twelve/The League Of Gentlemen
Various venues, Edinburgh
August, 1996

In the beginning was the Word and at the beginning of the day is the Reduced Shakespeare Company's 11.30am show, The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged) (Assembly Rooms). The show follows the same strategy as their Shakespeare and History-of-America enterprises three manic Americans compress the subject matter into 90 minutes but this particular outing feels less certain than hitherto, as if the scope of their source material and its status has hobbled them somewhat.

In Edinburgh, though, virtually everyone has a message to convey or is playing with methods of communication. Cork-born bitch-queen Graham Norton, in his strongest and most confident show since his 1992 debut (Assembly Rooms), discusses topics from Ricki Lake's trashy TV talk show before rounding the evening off with a live-on-stage telephone call in response to a sex ad in the back of QX magazine.

Meanwhile, David Strassman is communicating without moving his lips (Beck's Famous Splegeltent). Strassman builds from conventional ventriloquistic foundations his dummies have names like Chuck Wood and Teddy Bear but in the course of an hour both style and content slowly mutate: Chuck turns out to be a sharp-witted, foulmouthed yob and by the time Strassman brings out three animatronic triceratopes which he conducts through a rendition of "Bohemian Rhapsody", we definitely aren't in Kansas any more.

The central family in David Greig's play The Architect (Traverse Theatre) spends the first act resolutely failing to communicate. Greig is a skilful writer and is given a sensitive production by Philip Howard, but his thesis that modern families, like modern buildings, are not always the "machines for living" which they should be is over-stressed. Whilst Leo Black can think only of his work, his wife grows ever more neurotic about pollutants, his son cannot come to terms with his own sexuality nor his daughter, seemingly, with any mode of social existence. By the time the Blacks begin to grope towards an emotional lingua franca, the audience may be experiencing its own difficulties in engaging with the characters.

A trivial failure to communicate generates Ben Moor's gloriously bizarre solo comic narrative Twelve (Pleasance). Moor's lanky, gangling frame is combined with an intellect that square-dances through everyday occurrences, spewing forth images which range from a marauding army of six-inch-high clones of the Pope to the ideal sweetmeat, "a Swiss Army roll, with five smaller useful cakes coming out at the side". Moor is the most determinedly surrealistic of the current crop of young comics.

The League Of Gentlemen (Pleasance) is an altogether darker prospect; as in the films of Terry Gilliam, the laughs are inserted largely to offer momentary respite from squirms of discomfiture. After a deliberately gentle start a sketch about football supporters watching Hamlet the trio's material grows ever-more disturbing. The sketches are written and performed with a granite assurance and promise to jolt the complacency out of the most jaded comedy-goer.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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