THE BARBERS OF SURREAL
Lyric Studio Hammersmith, London W6
Opened 2 March, 1998

There is a rhinoceros in the town square, winding along country lanes is a coach emblazoned with the legend "Ceci n'est pas un bus", and Salvador the barber fusses relentlessly over a dog, Andalou. Forkbeard Fantasy are back with another teetering Heath Robinson contraption of gags, meta-gags, references and all-purpose weirdness.

Last year The Fall Of The House Of Usherettes ran to no little approbation in Hammersmith and later on the Edinburgh Fringe; Chris and Tim Britton and Ed Jobling now return with a show set in a small-town hairdressing establishment. Salvador and his son Yacob keep an eye on the goings-on outside their shop window, and occasionally peer into their recently acquired antique mirror; this being a Forkbeard show, both "window" and "mirror" are in fact screens on which 16mm film sequences are projected thus, a character exits through the shop "doorway" round the back of the screen, and shortly reappears on film in the "exterior" shot. At one point, a character (never referred to by name, although her long blonde hair and Victorian dress should ring a bell or two) flits ghostly from window to mirror and around the walls of the salon. Meanwhile, brother Flabberjay is experimenting with genetic engineering, the barbers offer a nice line in transplanting patches of grassland onto bald pates, and the Museum of Childhood next door is also overflowing with oddity. Oh, yes, and their newly hired assistant is an enormous chain-smoking rabbit.

There is no story to speak of, simply a cauldronful of comedy of cleverness as actors "cross the celluloid divide" or drop another arcane reference (was that really a Magritte mirror joke? Yes, it almost certainly was) and general bizarrerie. One can only speculate as to what substances the Britton brothers may have been ingesting in the early 1970s when they began their recherché enterprises, but it was evidently powerful stuff.

Whilst superficially accessible, the Forkbeards' brand of wackiness depends beyond a certain point on their audience recognising the cultural nods and winks being given. As such, they are unlikely ever to effect a large-scale mainstream crossover, but they seem perfectly happy as the revered cults they currently are, occupying not so much a niche in the market as a curiously fungal alcove.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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