Arts: Theatre - Yule love this one...

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The Independent Culture
THE NIGHT before last I had a vision of the Virgin Mary. it was in the Drill Hall - not the first place you'd expect to find the Messiah's mother doing one of her come-back gigs. She is normally more of a grotto sort of person - a bit like Santa himself, with whom she'd doubtless really click.

The BVM had touched down in her trademark blue and aureole of stars. Only she seemed to be wearing a pair of ice-skates slung round her neck and she was carrying the baby Jesus upside down by one heel. Then she started haranguing two scantily clad male attendants who, wise virgins themselves, had guarded against the snowy cold by wearing what looked like draught-excluders down their hot-pants. She was irate because there were only a few ice-cubes on the floor, not the full rink she had asked for. "What are we supposed to skate to Bethlehem on," she snarled, "a gin and tonic?"

Devout Catholics will be relieved to hear that this apparition wasn't really the Virgin at all but the singer, actress, and comedian Jackie Clune in a sketch from her Christmas show Follow the Star! Yule luv it. Well, you will if you are as camp as a plantation of Christmas trees. Readers of this column must know that camp is not a mode I'm naturally averse to. But, my God, there are limits. The show, which is set in the kind of Winter Wonderland log cabin, a shrine to the values of Andy Williams and Val Doonican, is like a raging form of homoeopathy. its method for curing festivity-fatigue is to overwhelm you with a phenomenally clever but also stupefyingly sterile parody of showbiz Christmas cheer.

Weirdly like a gay man in a woman's body, Ms Clune has talent to burn and makes a fine Karen Carpenter-style sound. Some of the spoof songs are blissfully sharp and silly. My favourite bit was where she linked up telephonically with Countdown's Richard Whiteley and sang him a "dictionary session" (replete with chosen letters) whose chorus goes "LOVE is a four- letter word/ But then again so is TWAT". At the other end of the line Richard chortled away, in all the wrong places. But Clune appears never to have heard of the "less is more" principle. A This is Your Life sequence feels as though it's intent on going through the entire Who's Who of showbiz tack.

Unlike Dame Edna, who when she humiliates people has the trick of also leaving them feeling warm and somehow aggrandised, Clune just offhandedly diminishes victims with her glinting-eyed, competitive bitch routine. The night I saw the show, she hauled on to her chaise a man who happened to have come with his ex-lover, giving her the cue for a number about Yuletide loneliness, the punningly entitled "You're a Christmas Single". This section was uncomfortable in a sour sort of way.

Certainly, if you were feeling depressed and isolated on Christmas Day Clune would be the last person you'd want to find at the other end of the Samaritan line, with the possible exception of Mrs Thatcher.

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