DEFENDING THE CAVEMAN
Apollo Theatre, London W1
Opened 17 February, 1999

"..blah blah hybrid theatrical style blah blah both his live comedy experience and his classical acting training blah blah make this play his own..." Do not be fooled by the programme notes: to all intents and purposes, this is an extended stand-up routine it simply happens to have a few props thrown in and to have been largely scripted by someone other than performer Mark Little.

Little is an engaging comic presence: direct, enthusiastic and specialising in amiable Antipodean frenzy. However, on opening night he took a good twenty minutes of this 90-minute show even to approach his cruising altitude; this may have been in part due to simple nerves or to an unfamiliarity with the sensation of delivering someone else's material in this way, but nor can he have been helped by an opening video sequence which, lasting the better part of ten minutes, is more than long enough to switch an audience out of theatre mode.

Nor is the material itself of the freshest. Original writer Rob Becker has constructed a pop-palaeo-anthropological explanation for the psychological and temperamental differences between the sexes instead of "men are from Mars, women are from Venus", this theory boils down to "men are hunters, women are gatherers". Once or twice, the resultant discourse threatens to turn into The Penis Monologues, but for the most part, Little delivers himself of observations like: tell her that blouse is pretty! Men read in the bog so as not to be interrupted! Women's feet are always so cold in bed! And have you noticed that men and women have different sexual needs and orgasmic capacities? Hardly drop-dead original stuff.

This is all the more frustrating because Little, in his Edinburgh Fringe appearances and elsewhere, has proven himself to be far more inventive than this. For all that he peppers the show with references to his own life with his wife Cath (who appears in that video and even gets a "Clothes worn by..." credit in the programme), he cannot disguise the fact that this is basically a selection of tried and trusted sex-war gags hung on a framework of modern Californian pseudo-insight. If the latter is meant to ironise the culture from which it emerges, it does not show. Oh, it is affable enough by its own lights, and Little matily enough does everything required of him, but he has shown himself capable of so much more.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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