David Benedict on theatre

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The Independent Culture
Sometimes, it is simply one's duty to ask terrifying questions. Faced with the unspeakable horrors of debased democracy, the new millennium, Aids and the return of The Liver Birds, we must stand up and ask: "Who is responsible for the invention of the Pot Noodle?", "Why is there only one Monopolies Commission?" and "Whatever happened to Anita Harris?" The other monstrous unfathomable is: "Why isn't Janice Perry a star?"

The self-styled "female Lucille Ball", she's an ecstatic cross between Doris Day and a high-velocity rifle, an American comedienne blessed with a beady eye, a magnificent voice, unstoppable energy and fabulous evening gloves. She topped the bill in Edinburgh in the Eighties but in the Nineties, Lea de Laria barged in, closely followed by the overrated Penny Arcade in Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore!, suggesting that audiences were easily shocked, had short memories and that critics didn't get out much.

Razor-sharp, raucous and ridiculously funny, Perry (right) has cult status in the USA, tours Europe incessantly but remains ludicrously neglected here. Her last show, modestly entitled World Power Sex Control, gives you an idea of her range but we, alas, never saw it. Her entrancing, hushed, wickedly funny Erotic Story was screened on BBC2's lesbian and gay night but few of us have had the inestimable pleasure of watching La Raviola, her embrace/assault on Italian opera, her gleeful, eye-popping dissection of the Jesse Helms/Mapplethorpe debacle or, indeed, her hysterically bewildered Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Tonight and tomorrow only, she is appearing at the Brighton Festival in her latest extravaganza, Devil with a Blue Dress, in which she launches herself at everything from dating to dirndls, taxes to S&M. Rage has never been more glamorous. Miss her at your peril.

Janice Perry is at the Brighton College of Technology, Pelham Street (01273 709709) 9.30pm