Comedy: Armstrong and Miller The Latchmere, London

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The Independent Culture
So much comedy these days is white male thirtysomething stand- ups reminiscing about Scooby Doo and Star Trek. What a relief, then, to stumble on Something Completely Different, two character actors donning a variety of wigs and accents to play everything from jargon-spouting town planners to Norway's third-most-popular rock band.

In their show, The Quality Shag - the title is one of their few lapses of judgement - Alexander Armstrong and Ben Miller rifle through the dressing- up box and invariably come up with something original. Last Thursday we were met by Armstrong and Miller as two yobbish Waltzer workers, warning that "thieves operate in this fairground" and "this ride is not suitable for women".

They went on to demonstrate an uncanny knack for making the boring interesting. The characters - two detectives on a surveillance job talking entirely in cop-speak cliches, two Australian moralists, two has-been Vegas crooners - did not at first sight seem to lend themselves to comedy. But in the hands and minds of Armstrong and Miller, they were brought memorably to life. The duller the character, it seemed, the more comic mileage they could extract from him. I laughed at two absurdly macho mountaineers. "Where's Malc?" cried one. "He slipped off at the first wall," replied the other. "Poofter."

They are able to conjure up characters in a couple of sentences because they realise that God is in the details. Strijka (pronounced "Streaker"), the bandanna-wearing Norwegian band, spoke English with the American twang familiar to all Scandinavians and mangled metaphors in their ludicrous pomp-rock songs. "If you're cooped up like a chicken, you lose your feathers and make a suicide," they wailed in a ballad bad enough to win the Eurovision Song Contest.

Like the makers of The Fast Show on BBC2, Armstrong and Miller are well aware that brevity is the soul of wit. The sketches are like comic commando raids: in, do the gag, and out again. The characters also have the virtue of timelessness - there are no references to Douglas Hogg that are going to date faster than a packet of beef sausages.

We may already have an over-abundance of male double acts on television at the moment - Smith and Jones, Reeves and Mortimer, Lee and Herring - but there should always be room for more if they're good enough. TV producers were spotted in the audience, so expect to see Armstrong and Miller on a screen near you soon.

n Armstrong and Miller continue Thu, Fri, Sat of this week and next. Booking: 0171-223 3549

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