It may be a cliche that nobody does Berkoff any more except students and Berkoff (pace Linda Marlowe), but his influence as a poet of social extremity has waxed over the past decade. His shadow falls long across Car (Pleasance; venue 33), an in-your-face tale of a quartet of young ne'er-do-wells who steal a bloke's motor and eventually all end up dead, whether through violence, suicide pact or, surprisingly, an asthma attack. The performances are fast, loud and energetic, particularly that of Lee Colley as the speed-jittery Jason, but overall it offers little beyond an immediate exhilaration and a perfunctory nod towards "understanding".
Energy abounds elsewhere in Gumboots (Palladium; venue 26) and Cookin' (Assembly Rooms; venue 3). The former, an evening of South African gumboot dancing originated by mineworkers who, forbidden to talk, worked out a terpsichorean kind of Morse code, is the unofficial heir to the success of Tap Dogs a year or two back. The company are camply beguiling as they show off for the audience and sing working and drinking songs whilst constructing a pithead on stage. Ultimately, however, the show has only two modes: harmonious singing and bit of stomping, or chanting and a lot of stomping.
This, however, is one more mode than Cookin'. As a quartet of Korean cooks supposedly try to prepare an entire restaurant menu against a tight deadline, they drum on chopping boards, juggle plates, tumble hither and yon and at one point even employ the floor-brush routine from Stomp! As a percussion-cum-circus show with at least a nod towards narrative, it ought to have been great fun; I felt almost literally like the ghost at the feast, seemingly alone in remaining utterly un-tickled.
Passage (St. Bride's; venue 62) is something else altogether. As well as reprising last year's acclaimed The Water Carriers, Theatre Talipot from the island of Réunion present this mesmeric blend of physical theatre, mime, dance and song in several languages. It is a kind of Jungian tale of a man's journey through the underworld of a cave, encountering a malign bat, a guardian angel, an archetypal mother-figure and a clutch of chittering ancestors, finally to emerge once again into this world having acquired wisdom and spiritual strength.
The Rejects Revenge company, who are probably second only to The Right Size in terms of bonkers physical comedy, depart from their usual territory of devised three-handers with the commissioned script of Whoredom (Komedia @ Southside; venue 82), in which a seventeenth-century noblewoman attempts to learn the skills of being a "lady of negotiable affection" whilst her teacher determines to seduce Richard Burbage and both battle against the evil Bishop of Southwark's schemes to obtain a monopoly on London brothels. Heather Robson's script takes delight in coining mock-period bawdry and euphemisms, and mixes its thees and thous as if there were no tomorrow.
After the unalloyed joy of 1997's Grace, Jade Theatre Company's Like Candyfloss (Pleasance) seems rather diffuse and unfocused. The story of two-end-of-the-pier bar staff and the failed paper-tearing artiste playing there, their dreams and fears, has a deceptive charm and poignancy which creeps up on you even as you try to slot the seemingly drifting sections of the piece together. At the same venue, adaptor/performer Alex Lowe turns his attention from last year's subject of wrestling to that of the 1990s palace coup in the halls of Radio 1. The Nation's Favourite: The True Adventures Of Radio 1 is narrated in the persona of controller Matthew Bannister and a clutch of DJs. The fact that Lowe's impersonations are patchy, to say the least (his Simon Bates often verges on Eddie Waring) does nothing to detract from his sharp, witty script and performance and Tim Norton's discreetly clever direction.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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