REVIEW: ON THE FRINGE

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The Independent Culture
I couldn't honestly recommend it as a revision aid for A-level students studying The Plague or The Outsider, but Albert Camus, What's the Score? (Lyric Hammersmith) does set the record straight on one thing. Long before Eric Cantona was muttering about trawlers and seagulls, France had invented the footballing philosopher. When he wasn't keeping company with Jean Paul Sartre, Camus was keeping goal for Algiers. In Nick Whitfield's one-man show for New Lads, the number one shirt has been passed to Alex, a Camus-obsessed Sunday league footballer. He prides himself on being the world's only existentialist goalie.

Of course, living in East Anglia this isn't always easy. Camus's hero Meursault chose the blazing heat of an Algerian beach to shoot an Arab. Our hero has to take the bus to Hunstanton, where he baits an over-friendly dog. Nevertheless Alex gets his chance for drama. When his girlfriend (Whitfield in a blonde wig) reveals she is pregnant, he panics and heads for France, from where, after a series of low-key adventures, he returns ready to commit to being a father.

When the play sticks to soccer and Camus, it's an enjoyably light entertainment, performed in a style that blends straight acting with stand-up. The trouble is we're also expected, a la Nick Hornby, to view Alex's life as a coming- of-age story, something that's as implausible as the plot is flimsy. Pope John Paul II used to be a goalkeeper too. What about a play about His Holiness (provisional title: The Pope Saves - But Bremner Puts the Rebound In)? That way we wouldn't have to put up with all these token references to 'er indoors.

Judy Upton's People on the River (Finborough), the final part of the Red Room's season of plays about the media, is a blunt assault on chat- show culture. Louise is brought face to face on a studio sofa with Nicky, a hit-and-run driver who killed her husband. She's promoting her victim- support group: he's promoting his first pop single, "Hit and Run". From then on they are symbiotically linked, both victims in a larger game played by the media.

Some of the problems the play suffers from are cosmetic. When theatre tries to satirise television, the sets invariably seem too tacky or the presenter too gauche: however much we profess to disdain the way TV values medium over message, we still cry foul if it doesn't look right. But there's also a sense here of watching a writer who has strayed from her field of expertise.

In last year's award-winning Sunspots, the tale of two sisters meeting up in Hastings, Upton showed a talent for writing about the most intimate of emotional states: damaged intimacy, sibling love, split allegiances. In People on the River, where most of the action takes place in a public forum, she seems far less sure of herself. Almost but not quite as unsure as tabloid royal expert Andrew Morton, who appears on video as tabloid royal expert Andrew Morton. Let that, if nothing else, be a warning about the power of the media.

In The Geography of Haunted Places (Lift at the Royal Court) Australian Erin Hefferon attempts to tell a few home truths about colonialism and white-bread Ozzie culture by taking all her clothes off (except the gold high heels and beauty queen sash), speaking like Mystic Meg, and cavorting with a small dead chimp. This show isn't second rate. It's not third rate. It's off the scale in its single-minded, incomprehensible awfulness, and what it's doing as part of the London International Festival of Theatre goodness only knows.

It would have been a wasted evening if it wasn't for the chimp, Booboo. Booboo was Cheetah in the Tarzan films, until he was taken to Perth Zoo, where he became famous for his depression. Stuffed and displayed in the museum of Western Australia, he had his penis stolen while in storage. "Booboo," Hefferon's character laments, "what embittered Bobbit has clobbered your bit?" and gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "couldn't give a monkey's".

`Albert Camus, What's the Score', Lyric Hammersmith (0181-741 2311) to 14 June; `People on the River', The Finborough (0171-287 1231) to 21 June. `The Geography of Haunted Places', Royal Court (0171-565 5000) to 7 June

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