THEATRE / A day in the life: Les Pieds dans l'eau, RNCM, Manchester

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When the lights go down and we see dawn breaking over a stage, perhaps with a dog barking in the distance, we feel a reassuring sense that we know where we are. We can anticipate the profile of the forthcoming action, how life's flux will be symbolically bounded within the unity of the day before night settles once more.

Les Pieds dans l'eau, performed by the Compagnie Jerome Deschamps at the Royal Northern College of Music, begins like this. But as one barking dog is joined by another, and then another, they constitute a scale from a toy yap to a sorrowful, bloodhound bass, which in another moment is performing in tune to a jaunty accordion. In some kind of odd acceleration, random particles have become over-organised, bound together in a sort of hyper-coalescence. This is a motif in the show as a whole. Everything that happens is comically absurd, but it is less the absurdity of chaos than of coherence run mad.

The scene is a neighbourhood, though with its wooden fence running in front of an empty blue sky, one that is cut separately from the world. It consists of a ramshackle collection of well-worn daily bric-a- brac, including the 'houses', which are tall, battered broom-cupboards.

'On est bien' - 'We're doing fine' - the residents keep agreeing. Except when they don't. Then, sparring and grumbling, they exchange long strings of 'Nons' and those infinitely modulated, sub-verbal French gutturals that defy phonetics. And there are other mishaps. One inadvertently swallows a mouse, another loses his glasses into a bowl of custard, and, as his companion looks for it, his glass eye goes the same way. A filling is lost, and its pragmatic owner replaces it by drilling out the tooth with his Black & Decker, trowelling in a tub of cement-filler and smoothing the result with a sander, showering sparks as he does so. Like the industrial vacuum the waitress employs to clear a table, the machinery is cheerfully disproportionate to the job. Since it is harmless there seems no reason to remark upon it. Nothing is left to chaos, as even incidental clinking of bottles and odd- job banging turns into a mambo.

This genial, relaxed and witty show is performed with effortless skill by Jerome Deschamps' seven- strong company. Each is a distinctive visual comedian, and together they cover a spectrum of types from the owlish to the galumphing. It is a seamless ensemble performance, always diverting, usually funny and occasionally hilarious. Coming to the City of Drama under the auspices of the London International Mime Festival, the company should expand the popular conception of the form. The pity is that these are the only British performances.

Ends tonight. Booking: 061-273 4504 / 5534