Off the box and off the boil

COMEDY
HAS THERE ever been a television programme quite as intellectually and emotionally satisfying as Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer's Shooting Stars? I don't think so. Memories of Ulrika Jonsson pluckily downing a pint of beer in four seconds, Mark Lamarr being concussed by a giant watermelon and John Peel being obliged to cram himself into a tiny pram will live on happily for many years in the minds of all who saw them.

Successfully populating their warped imaginary world with real-life John Cravens and Little & Larges might well be Vic and Bob's crowning achievement. It is some measure of the joy of Shooting Stars that all the crimes committed in the name of the celebrity gameshow are redeemed by it, even the career of Nick Hancock. Small wonder then that expectations are running high in the Hammersmith Apollo foyer - you could cut the atmosphere with a spoon - before the Weathercock Tour 1495 hits the stage. Once the show is underway, part of its title at least starts to make a strange kind of sense: 1495 is when the material dates from.

After some preliminary rolls of thunder and their trusty voiceover man intoning "fog, Twiglets, water", Vic and Bob launch into the song about cottage cheese that began their last series - "It's not really a cheese, it's a residue, but it's a residue that's good for you". Experts in the audience can tell you where they first saw or heard just about everything that happens tonight. There is nothing unusual about top comedy entertainers being too busy to get around to writing new material before heading out on tour, but Reeves & Mortimer fans are used to being spoilt for innovation.

Given that Vic and Bob's material is woven from a complete understanding of the etiquette of entertainment, and the bulk of their audience have stayed with them because they share some of this understanding, the possibility of feeling slightly short-changed by them is an uneasy one. And the sense of alienation is magnified by the diminished intimacy of the live setting (ie not being able to look right into their unhealthy faces like you can on television). This is one reason why an attempt to use a member of the general public to recreate the magic of Shooting Stars' true-or-false round ("True or false, OJ Simpson is a murderer?") just does not come off.

Once adjusted to the fact that this is effectively a greatest- hits set, there is plenty to en- joy. I never expected to see demented folk singers Mulligan & O'Hare again, let alone the Man With the Stick and Greg Mitchell the erotic labrador. The saucepan fights and the giant garlic press work well - even Charlie Chuck's extended filler routines have their moments. And whether you think the Bra-men are a poignant vision of north-eastern manhood struggling to cope with the demise of heavy industry, or just two men in donkey jackets convinced that everyone is looking at their lingerie, the resilience of their allure is undeniable.

There are some people to whom even classic Vic and Bob tropes like "A cup of tea so hot it was fire" will always remain inscrutable. If you turn off the simultaneous headphone translation of Issey Ogata's British debut at the Lyric Hammersmith you get some idea of how they might feel. Ogata, 42, is a big star in the East and there has been some confusion about how to sell him here. An early attempt was "The Japanese Mr Bean" but this was soon abandoned, presumably after people began to ask themselves "What next, the Norwegian Hitler?"

Unquiet American Eric Bogosian is probably the most instructive comparison. Like Bo- gosian, Ogata uses his extraordinary command of vocal and physical nuance to plumb the depths of frustration and misery attainable in ordinary lives. His "City Life" show presents a gallery of Japanese characters - a commuter, a salesman, a tourist - struggling to make sense of lives in a world where individuality is considered a liability rather than an asset. The man stranded on a Hawaiian beach between the conflicting demands of his wife and his mother is by some distance Ogata's funniest creation, not least because it features a translation of delightfully Reevesian absurdity: "You've got a face like a torn arse".

Reeves & Mortimer: Apollo, W6, 0171 416 6080, tonight; and touring till Sun 29 Oct.

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