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Theatre: Blood simple

UP-AND-COMING topical comedy revues are dubbed "the new That Was the Week That Was" with the same regularity as promising young footballers are called "the new Gazza". In both cases, it is invariably the kiss of death.

So it was with no little groaning that I went to the Jermyn Street Theatre in central London last week to see Bleeding Arts, a topical revue that boasted rather hopefully that it was "fixing its bite in the soft underbelly of the arts".

The biggest shock of the evening was that it wasn't irredeemably awful. The second biggest shock was that it actually raised quite a few laughs. While there were no budding John Birds or Willy Rushtons, the troupe of Abigail Roberts, Chris Stanton, Mark Unwin and James Campbell proved accomplished and versatile performers.

As with any sketch show, the material was hit-and-miss. The take-off of The Late Review was a little too recherche and up its own behind even for aficionados of late-night BBC2. Nevertheless, the troupe notched up many more palpable hits in Michael Eriera's smartly-directed show. They scored particularly well with comic juxtapositions - the more ludicrous, the better. Early on, an exquisitely refined Medici asked Leonardo da Vinci for "a work to uplift the spirit", to which the artist, a gorblimey Cockney, replied: "Right, tits and bums again then, is it?"

A certain section of the audience - oh, alright then, me - especially warmed to a wicked send-up of a loud-mouth critic interrupting the show by bellowing ostentatiously into his mobile phone from the front row. There was also a neat reworking of Peter Cook's Second World War sketch with a Peter Mandelson figure in the role of the fighter pilot being invited to make a futile gesture to raise the tone of the Government. "The codename for this operation is Domebusters," he is told.

Unlike some of their more illustrious forebears, Bleeding Arts are never going to bring down the Government. But anything that gives us a cheap laugh at the expense of Peter Mandelson is alright by me.

Bleeding Arts will be at the Edinburgh Festival from 7 to 31 Aug