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 The Theatreguide.London Reviews


For the archive we have filed our reviews of several Fringe and Off-West End productions from 2001 on this page. Scroll down for the one you want, or just browse.

Another Country - An Audience With Danny LaRue - Cheap Day Return - Closer to Heaven - Daydream Believer - Designs for Living - Dick Barton - ecstacy+Grace - Entertaining Mr. Sloane - Hello Again - Kaos Renaissance

 

Another Country Arts Theatre January 2001

First, a brief history lesson, for the non-British and those with short memories: in the 1950s Britain was rocked by the exposure of a small Soviet spy ring in its foreign service. They did serious, if not earth-shattering damage, but the real shock was that they weren't Russians or even hairy British revolutionaries, but Our Sort Of People. They had gone to the right boarding schools, attended Cambridge, belonged to the right clubs and were in every way members of the Establishment.

It was that shock, that subversion could come from so deeply within traditional British society, that still reverberates, and the names of Philby, Burgess, Maclean and Blunt can still cause a shiver. (The first three escaped to Russia when exposed, and lived out quiet lives there, but the Establishment was so traumatised that Blunt was allowed a long career as art critic and Keeper of the Queen's Pictures; he was even knighted.)

There was one other element, that was not made much of at the time: three of the four were homosexuals. Convinced that that factor was significant, Julian Mitchell wrote Another Country in 1981, offering a fictionalized version of how the British boarding school system, with its unique mixture of tradition, regimentation, brutality and ubiquitous-if-temporary homosexuality, could have created traitors. (The original cast included, at the beginnings of their careers, Rupert Everett and Kenneth Branagh.)

The play is set in a typical Public School in the 1930s, with formally-suited teenagers taking the rules, traditions and school politics with intense seriousness; they believe, with some accuracy, that whether or not they become house officers or get into an honour society now will affect their entire lives. So, while some of them look a bit silly, it is the system, and its effect on them, that is being criticised.

Standing out from the group are two rebels of different sorts: Judd (Ben Meyjes) is a dedicated-if-totally-naive communist, sneaking a flashlight into his bed so he can read Marx after dark. Bennett (Tom Wisdom) is a romantic nonconformist, playing at being poetically in love and flaunting his schoolboy crushes before those who are embarrassed by theirs.

Julian Mitchell's insight is that it is Bennett, and not Judd, who is going to become the traitor. As he discovers that, unlike the others, he really is homosexual, he realises that, just as that makes him an outsider in the school (he is not elected to that honour society), it will always limit him. If he is never to be fully accepted by the Establishment, why should he owe it any loyalty?

Stephen Henry's revival starts a bit off-key, not sure how satiric a tone to take, but it soon settles in, capturing the claustrophobic atmosphere and the real power of the school politics. Wisdom also takes a little longer than he should to let us see that there is more than the butterfly about Bennett, though Meyjes has caught Judd from the start as a warm, human figure trying to force himself into being humourless and doctrinaire.

As a flamboyant visiting literary figure, impressing the boys while trawling for talent, Patrick Ryecart visibly enjoys stealing his one scene with a wicked take-off on Edward Fox doing the Duke of Windsor.

As an explanation of history, Another Country may not be totally convincing (It seems to have been more a matter of university kids playing at socialism in the 1930s and being cleverly recruited). But as a study of how the essence of British society, especially in the hothouse setting of a school (or army, or village, or...), nurtures its own potential subversion, it is an engrossing and thought-provoking piece.

Gerald Berkowitz

 

An Audience With Danny La Rue Pleasance Theatre 2001

Danny La Rue is one of the most popular and loved entertainers in Britain. His annual summer variety shows and Christmas pantos sell out for extended runs, as coachloads of grannies and family groups come to enjoy his performances. And he's a drag artist.

For more than 50 years Danny has been appearing in dresses, in London and around the country - among other accomplishments, he is the only man to have ever starred in Hello Dolly! Unlike Barry Humphries' Dame Edna (provincial housewife as superstar) or Paul O'Grady's Lily Savage (Liverpool slag), Danny's image has always been of the elegant, beautifully gowned diva who occasionally arches an eyebrow over a mildly blue (never really obscene) joke. (Sample, in the cod-German accent of a Marlene Dietrich take-off: a reference to performing for "high-wanking" army officers.)

And now, borrowing the format of a TV series of a few years back, Danny is appearing in a more modest show, combining a drag performance in the first half with an informal chat (in man's clothes) in the second, answering audience questions.

He'll be 74 in July, and he's put on weight, and his divas look a bit more like Sophie Tucker than Shirley Bassey. But he is still a consummate entertainer, and the love that passes across the footlights, in both directions, is palpable. He gets strong support from Richard Gauntlett, filling in with a comic juggling act while Danny changes frocks.

But the real pleasure comes in the second half. On the TV show, the celebrity stars used the audience questions as prompts for carefully prepared ad libs and potted anecdotes. But Danny responds with totally unfiltered honesty and openness. He allows himself to ramble, and his answers sometimes range far afield from the generating question. But in the process we get a real, un-prepackaged look at a charming and clearly deeply happy man.

On this particular evening, questions led to the hilarious story of his first drag appearance, when a priest picked him from the altar boys to play Cinderella in the church play, to the account of being fired from one of his first jobs by Harry Secombe ("You're an attractive boy, but you have no talent"), and to a touching (because clearly not prepackaged) eulogy for his long-time partner.

For at least the last decade of his career Frank Sinatra had a vocal range of about two notes. But audiences loved his concerts, in part seeing in their mind's eye the younger man, and in part simply savouring the physical presence of a true star. Much the same is true of this intimate evening with Danny LaRue. It is a privilege to be there.

Gerald Berkowitz

Cheap Day Return: The Weird Sisters Touring 2001 (Reviewed in London, February 2001)

I first encountered the talented duo called the Weird Sisters (Alison Goldie and Kath Burlinson) in Edinburgh last year, where their show, Loveplay, was a real play, a satiric look at a dysfunctional family of women. Each of them played about a dozen roles, including some inanimate objects (I particularly remember a floor lamp with attitude), and it was the speed and skill of their transformations, and the sense of ensemble, as they had to trust each other to maintain the pace and the reality, that was most impressive.

For their 2001 show they have oddly chosen to turn their backs on some of their unique qualities, and present a fairly conventional revue made up of disconnected sketches, many of them solo pieces. The result is not a sense of something new and unique, but of very talented performers doing very well what almost anyone else could do.

The material, credited to the actresses and director Cal McCrystal, ranges from the conventional (satire of easy targets like bad lounge singers and an airheaded California fitness freak), to the amusingly bizarre (the plummy overacting of a Lady Bracknell-type actress, obscene-looking mime actions given mundane explanations), to a kind of post-modern neverland (a crap stand-up comic who happens to be an Islamic woman in a yashmak, a gay guy doing a Rula Lenska impersonation).

One could almost wish they had had the courage to pitch the entire show on that maverick, idiosyncratic level. It would have run the risk of disorienting an audience, but could have produced a truly original and unique twist on the conventional revue format. But even the weakest material is carried by the skill and charm of the performers, and perhaps only those who had seen Loveplay last year will be disappointed.

Their London premiere in February 2001 is openly declared as a work-in-progress, and those encountering them later in the tour will very likely see a different mix of sketches. My candidates for replacement would be the Greek widows and native peddler sketches, both of which go on too long with too little pay-off, and the whole running gag of fighting over which of the two is sexier, right up to the last, somewhat desperate bit.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Closer To Heaven Arts Theatre Summer-Autumn 2001

It's here at last, after countless column inches of will-it-happen-or-won't-it musings in the press - the much heralded musical from Noel Cowards of pop Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, a.k.a. the Pet Shop Boys. Although, it should be pointed out, they only did the songs - the thoughtful book is courtesy of playwright Jonathan Harvey, better known for Beautiful Thing, a bitter-sweet movie about the emergings of gay love on a housing estate.

And it's a fruitful coupling. At long last the West End (and maybe Broadway soon?) can boast a British musical which has taken that long-needed step into the next generation, while sensibly sticking to all the rules of the genre. Everything falls neatly into place: songs, acting, choreography, costumes, set - all riding on a powerful story peopled with contemporary, larger than life characters and which refuses to take any easy option. In other words, it's everything that Rent promised to be but wasn't.

Set in and around a grimy dance club, the action kicks in with Shell turning up to reacquaint herself with her gay dad, Vic, who somehow runs the club in between lines of coke on his desk and rough trade liaisons in the lockers. Shell's got a strong sense of morals but, street-sassy like her dissolute progenitor, she soon finds herself thriving amongst the denizens of his world, headed by faded pop vamp Billie Tricks, drug dealer Mile End Lee and lecherous pop impresario Bob Saunders. (Part of the fun is spotting which real-life personalities inspired or part-inspired Harvey's characters.)

Enter hunky dancer Straight Dave. Everyone insists he "bats for the other side", except Dave himself and the smitten Shell, who appears to prove her point by getting her man into bed. But not for long. Drugs and the love that's now screaming its name, fatally combined in the pert bod of Mile End, lure Dave off the straight and narrow. Fuelled by denial of his true self, temptation hurls him headlong into tragedy that ravages all concerned.

Director Gemma Bodinetz is lucky to have such an exciting palette of new blood and more experienced actors - which is just as these things should be. Where it really works is in the pairing of Stacey Roca and David Burt as Shell and Vic Christian. Burt is a trouper at home with classical drama as musicals while Roca is fresh out of drama school - Closer marks her professional debut. Their duet on first meeting, Closer To Heaven - echoed poignantly as a declaration of a different form of love later in bed by Straight Dave and Shell and then in the second half by Straight Dave and Mile End - is as perfect a scene-setter as you'll find for that all-important first song that invariably follows a musical's ensemble opener.

The songs are straight out of the Pet Shop Boys catalogue, and such is their trademark style with Tennant's almost spoken vocal delivery, they're not the easiest to sing nor lend themselves to easy interpretation. (Despite the PSBs' sublime stream of hits blending classic pop motifs with dance beats, how many cover versions by other artists spring to mind?) To everyone's credit, the numbers make the transition, from Billie Tricks' up-beat/down-beat Friendly Fire, where Frances Barber sizzles as the show's world-weary narrator, to Burt's inspired, tortured, spinetingling Vampires, a lament by Vic on the ways we prey on each other.

Paul Keating (Dave) and Tom Walker (Mile End) have great personality and give something for the guys and girls alike to drool over but both are a touch bland. No fault of the actors - maybe it's the only way to ensure your male lead is hunky and vulnerable at the same time, although Walker's supporting role could take less gloss and become seedier without hurting their romance.

Complementing Closer's peek at the darker side are lashings of humour, with the odd in-joke thrown in for good measure. All that comic potential is concentrated in the awesomely dissolute Call Me Old Fashioned (think King Herod's Song from Jesus Christ Superstar on every Class-A drug available on your street corner), where Bob Saunders (Paul Broughton) and toady sidekick Flynn (David Langham) attempt an extremely personal manner of wooing the lissome Straight Dave into their boyband world.

I'd be disappointed if this didn't transfer to a larger West End theatre. Maybe then they could sort out the rough edges which, as with all first productions, lurk in the corners. It's not the largest stage, but the choreography in particular could be more imaginative and the dancers more disciplined - one wants to see them act at being egotistical night club divas rather than feel you're uncomfortably close to the real thing.

You don't really need me, do you, to point out that by default this is not a show for all the family. I should, hoewever, note that if you're planning on catching this at the slightly cramped Arts Theatre (still my favourite space, though), then avoid the front six or seven stalls rows and the balcony side seats for better viewing.

Nick Awde

 

Daydream Believer Upstairs at the Gatehouse Autumn 2001

Those who have never been on a cruise and wonder about onboard entertainment can satisfy their curiosity at this Off-off-Broadway transfer written by Bob Penola and Jim Dowd, who previously specialized in cruise and theme park shows. The most minimal of plots is used as a structure on which to hang a medley of about 20 bubblegum pop songs from the 1960s and early 1970s, as typified by the Monkees hit in the title; and the combination of nostalgia and relentless perkiness carries the evening.

Matthew McRae plays a man facing his 40th birthday with two old friends played by April Anderson and Kelly O'Leary. They dig up his childhood diary, and the somewhat unlikely entries (He must have been an extraordinarily precocious eight-year-old) lead to reminiscences punctuated by singing.

The arrangements by Gary Adler make no real attempt to recreate the sound of the originals - there is, for example, no falsetto in the Four Seasons' "Let's Hang On". Instead, we get a somewhat homogenised generic cheeriness that is not at all unpleasant or inappropriate to the fluffy songs. The spoken links are generally awkwardly written and acted, but are mercifully brief - talk of sweets, for example, leading somewhat mechanically to "Sugar Sugar" or a sad memory comforted with "Ooh Child".

The logic of the lead-ins is occasionally stretched and tenuous. One can guess that it is the lyric about "tripping down the street" that connects "Windy" to a diary entry (by an eight-year-old?) about drugs, but how a description of a dentist somehow inspires "To Sir With Love" is considerably less clear. And the evidently gay protagonist's extended memory of a crush on Tommy Steele is followed, not by a Steele song, but by the assertively heterosexual "Hooked on the Feeling".

Under Ken Talberth's direction, Matthew McRae seems stuck with a characterisation pegged somewhere between Emo Phillips and Barney the purple dinosaur, and is clearly happiest when he can pick up a microphone and sing. The two women are given no characters at all to play and generally relegated to back-up vocalizing, but they do each get to move to the front for a couple of songs and add some witty touches to a duet of "Angel of the Morning". Christopher Whitehead adds further back-up vocals while conducting drummer Gareth Dylan Smith and bassist Michael Kantola from the piano.

Fragile and ephemeral in the extreme, the evening rides on its amiable perkiness and complete absence of pretension to be anything more than it is, a pleasant interlude for undemanding audiences.

Gerald Berkowitz

 

Designs For Living Drill Hall Spring 2001

Some years back (don't ask me how I know this), the lesbian press got into a dither over the discovery that some of its constituency were engaging in S&M activities. This bought into the patriarchal power structure of sexuality and was unacceptable, they said, until someone pointed out that a culture fighting the broader society's prejudice against their sexual choices really had no business turning around and condemning someone else's sexual choices.

Claire Dowie's new play is a somewhat lighter take on the same basic paradox, that those most legitimately in rebellion against prejudice and stereotyping can, in their own way, be just as guilty. It is an alternately comic and serious study in gender identification, romantic confusion, and the degree to which even the best-intentioned rely on pigeonholing labels rather than reality. And it is not just for lesbians.

JJ (Clarke Hayes) fancies Terese (Juley McCann), who fancies Louise (Deni Francis), who is straight, but fancies JJ. But Louise, who is absolutely, positively not a lesbian (says she) thinks that the butch JJ is a gay man. Or does she? Or is it that she would just rather imagine JJ as a gay man? And how does JJ define JJ's gender, or does anybody have a right to ask?

What begins as a funny romantic comedy of errors with a lesbian twist takes on serious overtones as Dowie shows how a culture immersed in coded behaviour and unspoken secrets has difficulty in dealing with open emotion. And then the play becomes fully serious and thought-provoking with the assertion of JJ's right of self-definition or, for that matter, refusal to self-define. The women in the play have no more right to demand that the others play some identifiable gender role, than society has to demand that they meet traditional definitions of femininity or sexuality.

Under Barcy Cogdale's direction, the characterizations and performances too often lapse into broad caricature, particularly in the first half, though McCann and Hayes ultimately anchor their portrayals in emotional truth. They are not assisted by the distraction of wondering which of the actors will be first to break her neck on David Reekie's obstacle course of a set.

Gerald Berkowitz

 

Dick Barton - Episode II: The Curse Of The Pharoah's Tomb Touring 2001 (reviewed at the Greenwich Theatre)

Once again, Warehouse Theatre Company recreates the world of post-war radio hero Dick Barton where women are either distressed or fatale, villains the spawn of Johnny Foreigner, and trusty sidekicks add necessary lower-class cheeriness.

As a follow-up to his equally entertaining comedy musical Dick Barton - Special Agent, writer Phil Willmott mercilessly poaches every Boy's Own scenario he can squeeze into two hours of non-stop stage action. Dick and assistant Jock are still battling the forces of EFIL (Evil Foreigners in London), complicated by the curse of a ruby filched from the tomb of Ahkan Rah. This necessitates dangerous trips to the British Museum and Egypt via a sticky situation on the White Cliffs of Dover.

Impelled by Willmott's bouncy lyrics, musical director Stefan Bednarczyk remoulds barnstorming songs from classic melodies - Strauss, Sullivan, Puccini - aided by the multi-instrumental/vocal cast of Andrew C Wadsworth, Kate Graham, James Lailey, Robert Sterne, Mark Roper and William Oxborrow.

Under Ted Craig's tight direction, the constant stream of gags and slapstick is kept bouncing high by a company that clearly enjoys the action as much as the audience. Some areas work less well. Wadsworth's dash is at the expense of derring-do and although he always gets the punchline, he rarely gets to throw the punches. Graham similarly wavers in treacherous agent Marta Heartburn and Egyptian queen Nefatartie's personality time share, which prevents her solo Multiple Division from being the showstopper it should be. Stuart Stanley's set is a remarkable touring set that will make the show a success in any venue.

Ripping stuff that can do no wrong - Mark Roper bringing the house down as Barton's loopy landlady is proof enough.

Nick Awde

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ecstasy+GRACE Finborough Theatre Spring 2001

There are some subjects we would rather not think about, and it takes a courageous and determined playwright to force them to our attention. When the subject is homosexual paedophilia, and the play is produced by a gay-oriented theatre company, something very special is going on. Even if the play were not as good as it is, Theatre 28 would deserve applause for taking on a topic they could be forgiven for wanting to sweep under the rug.

James Martin Charlton's powerful drama addresses exactly this impulse to disassociate oneself from the most unsettling facts of life and of one's own character. Davy, an English pornographer and pimp operating in Amsterdam, is introduced as a man of high intelligence, quick wit and even a strong sensitivity to moral issues. We are guided to believe and even empathise with his ability to juggle his ethics, his real affection for the boys in his charge, his sympathy for the warped hungers of his adult clients, and his commercial exploitation of all of them.

But then a shocking turn of events, all the more horrifying because of its inevitability, makes the contradictions in his life no longer sustainable, and he is forced into a deeply spiritual inner journey of despair and possible redemption.

The play manipulates us with great effectiveness by first presenting its characters as adjusted, content and even sympathetic. Tom Hayes plays Davy with near-manic bravura that is only gradually exposed as the mask for a repressed self-loathing, while Rachel Smith gives reality to the somewhat symbolic role of a woman from his more conventional past who acts as his conscience. Young Eric Byrne is particularly chilling as a sweet kid for whom prostitution seems no more than a convenient road to buying trendy clothes.

In the roles of Davy's clients and fellow pornographers, Michael Sachs, Christopher Whitehouse and Barry Aird play men who at first seem harmless, but whose different versions of moral rot are exposed in the course of the action. Stephen Henry directs with a sure hand, guiding us through the play's moral ambiguities and revelations.

The play loses its way in a final scene, when Davy must turn to a long-buried religious faith to find some hope of redemption. Its mode shifts from the concrete to the abstract, and the language flounders in self-consciously poetic metaphors. But up to that point it is as powerfully thought-provoking and emotion-stirring as its author could wish.

Gerald Berkowitz

 

Entertaining Mr Sloane Arts Theatre Winter-Spring 2001

Joe Orton produced less than a handful of plays in his short career in the 1960s, but they were enough to add a word to the critical vocabulary. "Ortonesque" is an adjective that can really only be applied to his own work, so unique is it. The unschooled writer managed to combine Wildean wit with a delight in the bizarre and absurd, and an endearing determination to be offensive.

The boundaries of offensiveness have shifted significantly in the past thirty-five years, but there is still plenty to catch you up short (between gales of laughter) in this comedy of polysexual manners, about an adaptably amoral hustler who worms his way into the home, hearts and erotic fantasies of a middle-aged brother and sister. The play is admittedly a bit uneven, without the sustained high energy of Loot or What the Butler Saw, but it is pure Orton, and Terry Johnson's new revival does it full justice.

From virtually the first line, the air is electric with comic sexuality, as the landlady (Alison Steadman) and her new boarder (Neil Stuke) exchange pleasantries that somehow seem to mean more; she, for example, seems never quite able to determine if her attraction to him is maternal or carnal, even while dragging him down atop her. The arrival of her brother (Clive Francis) merely adds to the sexual confusion. An exchange like "Are you fond of swimming?" - "I enjoy a plunge!" may vaguely hint at double entendre out of context, but in the play it is (and this is the essence of Ortonesque) both positively obscene and hilarious.

Orton's comic vision and writing are this revival's main strengths, but the talented cast searches out and delivers all the laughs and all the outrageousness. Alison Steadman particularly shines as the dowdy woman trying totally unsuccessfully to be subtly seductive, and so dim that she is oblivious to virtually everything but her own erotic fantasies. She makes Kath so charmingly inept at acknowledging and expressing her carnal intentions that she never loses a core of sweet innocence.

As brother Ed, Clive Francis balances this by playing a man so completely distanced from his own sexuality that he can only speak in a code so thick one is never sure he understands what he is saying, with only the occasional irrepressible spasm of delight to give him away. Neil Stuke's Sloane understands all, of course, and lets us enjoy the expertise of the protean hustler constantly change personalities without pausing for thought, to keep ahead of the plot's twists. Bryan Pringle gives predictably strong support as the old man with more awareness and more steel than he lets on.

Energy levels flag somewhat in the second act, so that the flurry of action and psychological twists with which Orton ends the play, including a great sight gag involving a set of false teeth, seem tacked on to a play that had lost its way for a while. But they do guarantee a satisfyingly bizarre and comic - that is to say, Ortonesque - ending.

Gerald Berkowitz

 

Hello Again Bridewell Theatre Spring 2001

Michael John LaChiusa's musical, an Off-Broadway hit in 1997, is a new take on Schnitzler's La Ronde, a play London has seen a lot of in recent years. Music adds a pleasant dimension to the familiar package, though it also makes the material seem somewhat thinner.

Schnitzler's play is the one in which A sleeps with B in the first scene, then B sleeps with C, and then C with D, and so on, until we end up back with A. Aside from having fun with the varieties of sexual couplings, he used it to comment on class differences and prejudices in 19th-century Europe. David Hare's recent adaptation, The Blue Room, lost those overtones, but replaced them with analysis of contemporary sexual politics.

LaChiusa's version is stripped of almost all subtexts and commentary, except perhaps for the yearning of some (not all) of his characters for something deeper and more satisfying than casual sex. So it is almost inevitable that at some point in the 90-minute show you'll begin to wonder whether this is all adding up to anything and to discover that, if it doesn't, it begins to drag and repeat itself.

Still, some of the scenes work quite well, either on the comic or sentimental level. It is noticeable that the women tend to get the best characterisations. For example, Mark Stobbart's student is little more than a straight man in both of his scenes, first to Golda Rosheuvel's comically predatory nurse, then to Jenna Russell's ditsy adulteress. Interestingly, the scenes which allow the men the most dignity are the two gay ones (the gender of the Young Thing having been changed), so that first Charles Shirvell, as the bisexual husband, and then Dominic Brewer as the boy hustler and Michael Cahill as the writer have touching moments and songs of romantic yearning.

Like every American theatre composer of the past thirty years, LaChiusa has been influenced by Sondheim, and there are echoes of everything from Company to Passion in his music and lyrics. The best songs, both in terms of melody and emotional effectiveness, come in the scenes involving the wife and husband (a haunting memory of a brief encounter), the boy and writer (a fantasy of love and not just sex), and the politician and whore (a sweet salute to the unreality of the encounter); the wittiest lyrics are in the nervous meeting of the student and wife.

For some reason the adaptor has juggled with time to set each scene in a different decade of the 20th century, though not in order. The songs don't really attempt to capture or parody the music of each decade, and the only effect is the occasional joke, as when a shipboard seduction in 1912 has to be rushed because of that pesky iceberg.

As I said, it is frequently very pleasant. But even more than with the original, you are likely to get restless and sense that there is a lot less here than meets the eye.

Gerald Berkowitz

 

The Kaos Renaissance Touring 2000-01 [reviewed at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London]

Kaos is a touring company with a definite house style, built on highly stylized movement and choreography. Typically, a scene of straight dialogue will be accompanied by balletic movements that suggest the emotional subtext, while moments of overt emotion will be underlined though exaggerated reactions and double-takes.

The effect can be off-putting at first, as when in 1999 they turned Oscar Wilde's very verbal Importance of Being Earnest into a farce-filled physical romp. But when you give yourself over to the experience on its own terms, it can be exciting and certainly entertaining - that Wilde production won The Stage's award for ensemble playing at the 1999 Edinburgh Festival.

Their current show, now touring Britain, unfortunately does not present them at their best, but is still worth seeing as an introduction to this unique style. Xavier Leret's performance piece for the Kaos ensemble creates a fantasy Italy in which Lucrezia Borgia is a benevolent liberal who keeps Leonardo da Vinci as her house intellectual and part-time party planner, while he uses his spare time to invent the jet engine and heart-lung machine. Borgia and the Pope, for their separate reasons, are at odds with the reformer Savonarola, and Machiavelli advises and manipulates all three in their manoeuvring against each other.

At the core of the piece, then, is the title pun and the image of the Renaissance as defined by conflict, between intellect and faith, between freedom of thought and repression, between advancement and protection of the status quo. Unfortunately these ideas come across more as intellectual concepts than as theatricalised experience.

Under Leret's direction, Kaos's signature physicality and stylized choreography are only intermittently employed, becoming occasional distractions rather than a sustained performance style. Leonardo and his assistant are apt to break into dance or clamber over the set, and the Pope has a couple of exaggerated double-takes, but these are puzzling interruptions to the essentially straight playing.

Meanwhile, on the basic story-telling level, exactly who's doing what to whom, and why (and why it matters) is frequently unclear. So the piece's pleasures are in bits rather than the whole, as in a bizarrely black comic scene in which Machiavelli gets Leonardo to use his technology to animate the dead Lucrezia for an essential parlay with Savonarola.

Doubling as an icy Savonarola and a dying beggar that Leonardo can't wait to dissect, Jack Corcoran has an impressive death scene that is the play's most human moment; and Ralf Higgins is appropriately enigmatic (i.e., it's particularly hard to follow the plot when he's around) as Machiavelli.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Another Country - Arts 2001 Review - An Audience with Danny LaRue - Pleasance 2001 Review - The Weird Sisters - BAC 2001 Review - Closer to Heaven - Arts 2001 Review - Daydream Believer - Gatehouse 2001 Review - Designs for Living - Drill Hall 2001 Review - Dick Barton - Greenwich 2001 Review - ecstacy+Grace - Finborough 2001 Review - Entertaining Mr. Sloane - Arts 2001 Review - Hello Again - Bridewell 2001 Review - The Kaos Renaissance - 2000