THEATRE: Beach Blanket Babylon Arts, London

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The Independent Culture
Food is central to the actor's life. Unemployed, you wait on tables and serve it to others. Employed, you're forced to eat the stage version: culinary nightmares like upturned peaches floating in a sea of blancmange playing at being fried eggs. The all-singing, all-dancing breakfast served up in Bloolips' uproarious Gland Motel, however, was one of the glories of 20th-century theatre, as Ivan Cartwright, swathed in a rasher-of-bacon stole, poked two gigantic PVC fried eggs with a huge fork while belting out a gleeful "Keep Your Sunny Side Up".

Dancing meals have been absent from the stage for too long and I for one welcome their return in Steve Silver's Beach Blanket Babylon, San Francisco's legendary revue which has been seen by over 4 million people in 23 years. Zipping around the world in 80 minutes of monumental stupidity, its menu runs to an explosion of pineapples, bananas, fruit salads, chop suey, ice-cream, tap-dancing sushi and an 8-ft high, all- Italian pizza.

Despite this international flavour, for the first 20 minutes or so it looks like a show that won't travel. Overeager to please, it all seems too American for British tastes. Californian chorus boys bounce on with technicolour surfboards, T-shirts, fake tans the wrong side of "Light Egyptian" stage make-up, sparkling teeth and no irony. "I wish they all could be California girls," sing the boys. Pardon? I thought we were in San Francisco.

Things pick up with the arrival of what's laughingly known as the plot as an ever-hopeful Snow White surfs up. Lisa Burnett Bossi's immaculate reconception of Disney's virgin - right down to the bat-squeak, high- velocity warble - carries a red suitcase bearing the legend "A Prince or Bust" and is packed off around the world in search of love. Locations are picked exclusively for their comic potential; they're not so much sketches as one-liners, setting up yet more gags, songs, costumes and, most importantly, hats and wigs. There's more millinery here than in a Rosalind Russell movie. Whether it's Tina Turner looking like she got into an argument with an Afghan hound or Barbara Bush making an appearance as a hedge in pearls, this is the first show in history where you come out singing the wigs.

Even though indulgence is the whole point, the show could do with a little pruning - I'd lose the poodle number, and fast - but by halfway through, even the most resistant are won over by its sheer glorious silliness. At the same time, the scenes grow sharper and the script and designs abandon old gags for the delights of surprise. Additions for London, after a shaky start with a Dame Edna insert, are smartly done.

The five-strong band punch out famous hits and the cast have hot voices, especially the very funny Val Diamond who not only yodels but slays the audience as a not so much world-weary as completely exhausted vowel-mangling Piaf. When she switches continents and launches herself into "Anyone who had a Heart", she makes Cilla Black sound like Aled Jones. You know what they say: Nothing succeeds like excess.

To 7 June (0171-836 2132)

David Benedict

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