Snot my cuppa tea

THEATRE Fungus the Bogeyman Belgrade, Coventry
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The Independent Culture
Fungus the Bogeyman, premiered now at Coventry, is the musical (or rather "plop opera") version of Raymond Briggs's much loved strip- cartoon book about life in Bogeydom: that dingy, slime-sodden subterranean world where filthiness is next to godliness and where a bogey plumber would be called if the lavatory got unblocked. The book received reviews which ranged from "Fungus might well become a cult figure" (TLS) to "Porn for the pre-potty trained" (Reveille). The Belgrade's publicity leaflet jokily predicts the notices for this Ken Campbell production: "A snotacular success" (The Ear Wax Echo), "a night of musical mucus that will lurk with you forever". The truth, alas, is somewhat less lurid: "Snot very good" would be about right.

What appeals to children about the book is the scatological reversal of values (Bogey graffiti consists of grave philosophical statements; their food shops are darker and dirtier than their houses, etc). Its netherword scenes set in a strikingly bile green, snot dripping cavern (designer: Claire Lyth), the adaptation has, of necessity, to jettison one of the book's larger contrasts (that the Bogeys, who make things go bump in the night when they sneak up to our world, are all gentle apathy in theirs). But it creates some nifty inversions of its own and the first half comes alive when a group of rebellious Bogey teenagers sing and dance with towels to the "Rockabogey Boogie" ("I'm gonna take a shower / I'm gonna wash my feet") and stare in wonder at a hardcore video nicey of a gardening programme.

Conjuring up visions of a world where you'd go behind the bike sheds to indulge in Harpic abuse, this idea of covert deviation from Bogeydom's norms has a good deal of dramatic potential. Provided it's handled coherently, that is, which fails to happen here. On the one hand, Bogeydom is presented as a repressive state where Mac MacDonald's Fungus, bowed down with his mid-life crisis in a posture achingly evocative of lavatories, is forced to undergo corrective therapy in a barrel of putrid muck when the authorities discover he has a fetish for toilet paper. On the other hand, he's cheered on for "Braving the light / To do what is right" when he ventures above ground to rescue his little son Mould (Tracy Harper) from a human hospital where he's been treated after a road accident. What had happened, my five-year-old companion wanted to know, to the teenage rebels who had coaxed Mould up? Had they all had road accidents too? And weren't they supposed to be goodies? Children are not slow to spot a fudge.

The music by Mike Carter and Corin Buckeridge has some nice farty trombone work and ranges from atmospheric dissonance to pop pastiche without being catchy or memorable. Ken Campbell's staging has lapses into the execrable, the fights and the chases feeble beyond belief and, in a dismal cop out, Fungus's climactic climb to the surface scarcely shown. The scene in the Bogey library suggests that on that culture's reading list are such volumes as Cider with Bogey and The Collected Works of John Dung. Indeed, there are times when you feel that this show could be alternatively titled Slime and Punishment.

n Booking: 01203 553 055 to 3 Jun