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Comedy: Weird and witty

AN ITALIAN mime cum quick change artist sounds like something a loony left council would have given a grant to in the early 1980s. It scarcely has the ring of a hit West End show. Yet last week at the Queen's Theatre in London, Ennio Marchetto received a standing ovation for his quite unique brand of lip-synced paper-folding.

His is a hard act to describe, but here goes. Marchetto dances on stage wearing a paper replica of a singer whose words he is miming. With a deft sleight of hand and a swift change of sound track, he then morphs into another artist - and then another. It's like an even camper, origami version of Stars In Their Eyes. It may sound bizarre, but it's also bizarrely mesmerising.

Marchetto has been accused of endlessly repeating the same schtick. His show, critics said, was a horse which had been flogged until well after the pathologist had issued the death certificate.

But this time round, Marchetto displayed a welcome streak of imagination, evident in some truly weird juxtapositions. What sort of warped mentality is it that dreams up a transformation from Godzilla into Keith Flint out of The Prodigy into Judy Garland singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" - complete with fluttering birds and rainbow?

Similarly left-field inspiration obviously went into the metamorphosis from the Michelin Man to John Travolta to Gone with the Wind's mammy. And Lord knows where the ludicrous Egyptian mummy/Cher/ CP30 sequence came from.

Very detailed work has gone into the preparation of the paper costumes. In one routine, Marchetto plays a melodramatic diva who stabs herself with her own hairpin and spills droplets of paper blood all over the floor.

Like a political cartoonist, Marchetto wickedly exaggerates many of his creations' features. Barbra Streisand's nose, for example, grows like Pinoccio's during the singing of "People". And, I imagine, Celine Dion would not take kindly to the depiction of her outsized, jug-handled ears, or the image of her throwing up at the sickliness of Titanic.

At other times, a more subtle gesture - like Alanis Morrissette's most miserable pout - is enough to capture a character.

Marchetto is wise to keep the show to just over an hour. Any longer would seem like over-egging the pudding. But anyone who can segue smoothly from the Queen to Queen, with the simple addition of Freddie Mercury's buck teeth and tache, shows a commendably subversive mind. You never know, Marchetto might achieve the apparently impossible and finally make mime hip.

Ennio Marchetto is touring nationally until 3rd December