Arts: It's a man's world

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WELCOME TO the twilight world of the heterosexual. Rob Becker's record-breaking Broadway comedy, Defending the Caveman, arrives with an affidavit from John Gray, author of the best-selling Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, so that you instantly know where you are. It's a cross between a self-help guide to the sex war and an amusing stand-up routine.

The best thing about it is the casting. Your tour guide is Mark Little. Best known in this country as Joe Mangel of Neighbours fame, Little has temporarily cast aside his acting career to become a well-loved comedian and a buoyant host on The Big Breakfast. He has a hugely appealing, unusually benign, anarchic quality. The show may be predicated on the idea of straight men's behaviour stemming from the prehistoric blueprint of the caveman, but as the rather large Little shambles energetically about the stage, he seems less Fred Flintstone than Yogi Bear.

He's great on puzzlement and bewilderment, his whole body leaping into a question mark at some impenetrable example of women's behaviour. His stand-up expertise means he's marvellously relaxed and can time arguments and gags beautifully, raising big laughs on the absurdities of men. That explains male group bonding and fear of intimacy in, say, cricket: "A bunch of guys hanging out but far from each other... You've got all your mates around you... but not too close."

Becker argues that gender divides us into different cultures, languages and customs. Far from spurning women, prehistoric man worshipped them for their magic. Men have a narrower focus: they want to trap and kill while women go out gathering. Yes, we're back with the old hunter-gatherer dichotomy explaining everything about divergences between the sexes. After centuries of mutual misunderstanding, we're told, we must move on, and cherish those differences.

In Little's hands, much of this is very funny, but the longer it goes on, the more you begin to believe that the writer came up with the equation first, then dragged in examples to fit it. Even Little's engaging Australian filter on the proceedings cannot disguise the utterly American tone. Hot on the heels of some smartly comic stuff about the gender differences on sex, the final section shifts into proselytising mode with more than a whiff of "the inner child".

Becker's piece is about banishing blame: it's no one's fault. That's a great way to appeal to both sexes, but it also cunningly absolves men of all responsibility for the problem. Well, he would, wouldn't he? Defending the Caveman may try to be even-handed in the gender agenda, but face it, it was written by a man.

David Benedict

A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper