The Bicycle Men
King's Head Theatre Autumn 2007
Irresistibly silly, unrelentingly take-no-prisoners funny, this American import must have the highest laugh-per-minute ratio of anything available in London.
Previously seen at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2005, this is the epitome of a fringe show - small-scale, with an amiable modesty and do-it-yourself quality, and yet fully professional and polished.
Its creators - Dave Lewman, Joe Liss, Mark Nutter and John Rubano - come out of the Chicago improvisational comedy scene, which shows in the series-of-sketches construction and the instant characterisations.
The last three are joined here by Dan Castellaneta (yes, the voice of Homer Simpson), who plays an American cycling through France whose bike breaks down in a very strange village.
As he waits for it to be repaired he encounters, among others, a street mime who speaks (Don't ask), a Dutch tourist who sings himself to sleep with Japanese folk songs (Please don't ask), a French waiter who sings a song mistranslated from the Spanish (I asked you politely) and a puppet show that seems based on his own life.
With the other three performers playing Everyone Else, the silliness is non-stop and punctuated regularly by songs that are, if anything, funnier than the characters and dialogue.
In addition to those mentioned, I'd pick out the lovely lullaby that assures baby there is no God and life sucks, the one about the only two white guys at an African-American fish fry, the one that somehow evokes both Gilbert & Sullivan and Monty Python's Lumberjack Song and, climactically, the one about the only straight chorus boy on Broadway.
Castellaneta is delightfully befuddled throughout as straight man, Liss manages to channel both Harpo Marx and Robin Williams, Rubano finds a half-dozen different ways to be parody macho, and Nutter not only plays several characters but accompanies the songs (music and lyrics by him) on a keyboard.
I suppose there is somebody somewhere who would not laugh uninterruptedly through the 90 minutes of this show, but I could only pity him.
In 2005 our Edinburgh reviewer took a more intellectual approach:
The Bicycle Men Underbelly
Pure delicacy, pure delight, pure undiluted madness! I mean, I can't even think back to this show, written and performed by Dave Lewman, Joe Liss, Mark Nutter and John Rubano, without breaking into fits of laughter. The concept is quite simple - an American tourist has lost his bike in the French countryside and embarks on a strange journey of cultural clashes and discoveries. Translated in stage terms it means a wannabe Broadway star finds himself in a really good improv comedy about a journey through the European theatre genres, including corporeal mime, puppetry, slapstick comedy, more puppetry, theatre of the absurd and - puppetry. In a way, it is a micro-version of the Fringe itself. But saying anything like 'if you can see one show this year, make it this one' would be just a euphemism for what should really be obligatory viewing everywhere from Bruxelles to DC. Not that there's anything politically relevant in this show where Dutch students lull themselves to sleep with loud Japanese folk songs and, even less tastefully, excrement is paraded on food trays - but it is such an exquisitely funny and well-timed feel-good piece that it has something for every possible cultural inclination around. Duska Radosavljevic
Receive alerts every time we post a new review
The Bicycle Men - King's Head Theatre 2007