Edinburgh Festival `98: Bottoms up, Little Englander

Comedy: Al Murray Pleasance
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The Independent Culture
THERE IS a moment from "You're the One That I Want" in Grease where John Travolta sings of the frisson he gets from Olivia Newton-John. "It's electrifying," he croons with a visible jolt.

Al Murray's Pub Landlord, who would no doubt approve of the song as "normal" compared to the poncy modern jazz too many bars are playing, has a similar effect.

He's the sort of bloke who would have been there with Our Boys, socking it to Johnny Foreigner on the streets of Marseilles during the World Cup, epitomising all that is worst about our country; bragging, swaggering, macho, prejudiced, ignorant and jingoistic, he is Little Englander personified.

And yet, in Keeper of the Pint Cosmic, Murray plays the character with such relish that you can't help warming to him. Whether railing against a man with a hooped earring ("not a pirate, are you, squire, or a curtain?"), or twitching with rage at the sight of a woman drinking a pint rather than the required "glass of white wine for the lady", his sheer panache wins you over. The very idea of a graduate trainee from the brewery wanting to institute a gay night in his pub makes the Landlord clutch his chest and stagger backwards in shock.

But he is no one-note wonder. There are also shafts of pathos - he slips in the line, "I'm so alone", and references to the boy he never sees - that glint in the morass of lager-fuelled ranting.

The Landlord is a beautifully observed character - right down to the costume: a ghastly maroon jacket that proclaims "mine host", a white shirt adorned with the brewery's crest, a fistful of sovereign-rings and a belt whose buckle reads "BEER" in bold copper letters.

Forget all the Cool Britannia hype. The Landlord is a much more accurate picture of what we're like.

Al Murray, The Pub Landlord, is at the Pleasance, Edinburgh (0131-556 6550) until 31 Aug