THE FRINGE / Excess baggage

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The Independent Culture
Racism, faithism and the social conditioning of female sexuality' are the stated targets of the literary department of the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, and Paul Sirett's play Crusade is a kind of kamikaze attack on them. Through the story of an incongruous group of tourists stranded in the occupied West Bank when their minibus breaks down, he attempts to show how national and individual prejudices have interfered in the Middle East since the crusades. But each character is burdened not only with their own baggage, but with the playwright's as well. The play's 'moral' is not allowed to emerge from the microcosm the minibus represents, but is overlayed with theatrical contrivances which actually weaken its very valid mission.

Orit Azaz's The Big One is pure contrivance, but here form reinforces content in a stylish, light-hearted dissection of the ways in which our existence is overshadowed by the fictionalised lives of TV personalities. Mr and Ms Normal meet at a party and struggle to forge a relationship on stage, while above them on huge screens their glamorised alter-egos slide effortlessly into bed. Never was the clumsiness of the live flesh so cruelly portrayed.

To add insult to injury, a blandly smiling TV couple offer advice from the smug position of apparent perfection. The film is an acutely observed pastiche of daytime TV, with the same actors, Marie Clifford and Richard Ahsam, cunningly disguised. It is always more difficult to watch real actors than the sparkling pixillations on a screen, however, and this problem is exacerbated by the ordinariness of the 'real' characters and the mundanity of their dialogue. But there is usually enough happening on the different levels of the production to hold the attention, with wittily thought-out conceits and flights of theatrical fancy to compensate.

Baldy Hopkins is The Right Size's latest excursion into an unpredictable world of invisible walls and self-propelling furniture. It's still the playfulness and visual trickery they do best: with a beguiling nonchalance, they set up elaborate stage conventions only to wilfully knock them down.

'Crusade', Theatre Royal, E15 (081-534 0310); 'The Big One', Cockpit NW8 (071-402 7040); 'Baldy Hopkins', Cochrane, WC1 (071-242 7040)