EDINBURGH 98; Switch off your brain and tune in to the sound of the asylum

THE MIGHTY BOOSH THE PLEASANCE
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The Independent Culture
USUALLY the fringe's hot tickets start declaring themselves mid- way through the first week. "The Mighty Boosh" is that rare beast - the show exalted by word- of-mouth to the status of this year's must-see before the end of week zero.

No one I've met seems quite able to describe what it is that Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt do, but maybe that's because most of the people I've met are more used to straight stand-up than the kind of deliciously batty, deliberately slapdash pieces regularly presented by theatre companies such as the Right Size and Peepolykus.

That's not to say that Fielding and Barratt aren't in a league of their own (even though they and Peepolykus share the same director, Cal McCrystal). You wouldn't catch this pair attempting to make you laugh with anything so overtly calculated as a pun or piece of polished knockabout.

Their surreal shaggy-dog-story, a series of spuriously related scenes strung together by line after line of inspired non-sequiturs and ludicrous sight gags, is taut in structure but still pliable enough to sustain the illusion that the whole enterprise is as off-the-cuff as Coleridge's Kubla Khan.

They make their first, ridiculous appearance draped in curtains, with cotton-wool clumps for hair, and faces smeared in cold cream, prancing around to the sound of a Hammond-organ. It's like an instruction to switch off the rationalising part of your brain, although much of the subsequent humour lies in the way that Barratt's character - jazz-loving Howard Moon - attempts to grapple with the hallucinogenic forest that he and his fellow zoo-keeper find themselves mysteriously trapped in. "You've got to get with the bracken, move with the moss," he instructs Fielding's perpetually dazed pop star manque, Vince Noir, making absurd Karate chop motions to emphasise his loopy points.

It would be folly to attempt to describe what follows: the pseudo-ritual dances, the stab at Russian expressionist theatre, their attempt to make a "fruit smoothie" drink with the help of Mr Susan, an ape-man with bananas for fingers and a tear from a woman from the audience "with Christmas eyes like satsumas on Boxing Day".

There are moments when the incongrous patter is stretched to breaking point (a billiard table made of marzipan, anyone?), and they laugh so much at their own jokes you wonder how they'll ever cope with the TV careers that undoubtedly await. The world they inhabit bears more than passing resemblance to those of arch-surrealists such as Harry Hill and Reeves and Mortimer, but it teems with the life generated by their own peculiar warmth. Come on in, the asylum's lovely.

Runs until 31 August (0131-556 6550)

Dominic Cavendish

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