comedy Lano & Woodley's Curtains

A little bit physical. A little bit verbal. James Rampton loved it

Zubin Mehta was conducting the London Philharmonic in a concert performance of Aida at the Royal Festival Hall on Thursday evening, but I had come to the South Bank to see a cultural event of quite a different order: two clowns in ill-fitting clothes hitting each other and falling over a lot. Since the demise of right-on stand-ups ranting about Thatch and the NHS, comedy has found refuge in ever more escapist silliness. And they don't come much sillier than Lano and Woodley.

The Aussie double-act are like Laurel and Hardy after an intensive training course at Billy Smart's. As with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern or Hale and Pace, you can never quite remember which is which, but their music- hall, slapstick schtick in Curtains revolves around Lano bullying - and often attempting to assault - Woodley. When words fail Lano, he expresses himself through a frying-pan vigorously applied to the back of Woodley's head. Their dress - both Woodley's jacket and Lano's trousers are several sizes too small - and style hark back to silent movies. As directed by Neill Gladwin, their stunts would certainly not look out of place at Universal Studios. One breathless two-minute sequence offers consecutive sight gags with that frying-pan, a vacuum-cleaner, a wardrobe-door, and that fail- safe comedy standby, spaghetti. Further on in the spurious plot about a weekend away, Lano shoots Woodley in the chest with an arrow, before they get up to some gravity-defying capering on top of a rickety wardrobe. In the most dramatic moment, Lano calls up 20 men from the audience to hold a tarpaulin into which Woodley drops from a 30ft-high trapeze.

Their cunning stunts do not, however, preclude equally clever verbals. When Lano stumbles on a line, Woodley tells him, quick as a flash: "Here's a new word for your vocabulary: rehearsal." Then Woodley introduces a song about their good friend Terry, which runs in its entirety to: "Terry was a very, very boring person, and nothing ever happened to him that was worth putting in a song." Later, a volunteer from the audience turns out to work in television comedy, and Lano makes a secret prayer of thanksgiving before saying to her: "I don't know whether to get you to sign something while you're up here." Proof positive that not all Aussie comedians are as leaden as Paul Hogan.

At the end, Lano and Woodley perform a show-stopping number of the sort not normally seen in a West End musical; encased head-to- toe in sleeping bags, they leap around like the demented sperm in Woody Allen's Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask - to the sound of Frank Sinatra crooning "My Blue Heaven". An exquisitely daft finale to an exquisitely daft show.

Lano and Woodley are at the Purcell Room, South Bank, London SE1 (0171-960 4242) tonight and tomorrow

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