THEATRE / Canada wet: Tristan Davies on My Boyfriend's Back and There's Gonna Be Laundry at the Old Vic

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The Independent Culture
Sandra Shamas is billed as Canada's 'hottest comic artist', which is about as reassuring to a British audience as if she had been billed 'the West Midlands' most honest policeman'. Given that her country's contribution to comedy is roughly on a par with Norway's to Eurovision, the nervousness with which she took to the stage was understandable.

In a cute and neatly calculated opening of the wow-I'm-really- here variety, Shamas huffed and puffed and beamed wide-eyed and open-mouthed into the lights for as long as there was applause. Catching her breath (or turning it off, depending on how you warmed to this little display), she composed herself and adopted the 'Dave Allen', the international standard set for solo performers who are either too tight or too canny to invest in flashy costumes or props. The 'Dave Allen' merely requires the artist to turn up in whatever they happen to be wearing that day (in Shamas' case a pair of cut-off denims and all-in-black leggings, shoes and top), with a table on which to stand a glass and a chair to lean or sit upon.

Suspicion that there were rather fewer Londoners and rather more Canadians in the Old Vic than you might otherwise expect on a week day was confirmed when Shamas, in time-honoured fashion, announced 'I was born and raised in a small Ontario mining town called Sudbury . . .' and was greeted with hollers of recognition. Instead of falling off her chair with shock (as, say, Eddie Izzard might do if he played Toronto and found the stalls block-booked by Bexhill-on-Sea) she simply acknowledged them with a casual 'Yeah, you too?' The home-from-home support and impressive first night turn- out is a credit to the pulling power of the man who brought Shamas to London, the impresario David Mirvish, who happens to be the (Canadian) owner of the Old Vic.

Shamas is a veteran of Canadian pulling techniques. In Sudbury, she explains, 'men are men, and women are men. If a man in Sudbury sees you are drunk he will jump on you and hump your leg'. This may explain the Y- fronts, hanging on the back of the chair. She may not own them, but she has their function down to a pee: 'They don't use the hole,' she reveals at the end of a routine in which she stops just short of tearing them apart.

This, as it turns out, is not the act of a woman who would like to grab men where it hurts; in fact, Shamas seems keen to add to her collection of male underwear. Her homely tales of growing up in small-town Canada soon give way to a mountie-like determination to get her man and avoid 'what Cosmopolitan would describe as 'The Joy of Being Single' - that's the biggest oxymoron in the world, like military intelligence'. These men are not the pathetic bastards that have become the butt of British stand-ups from Victoria Wood to Ben Elton; rather they're the lovable bastards of romantic fiction that, deep down, every girl wants.

In this tale of girl-dates-dorks, girl-wins-loses-and-takes-back- dreamboy, men break hearts while women pick up the pieces. 'My boyfriend's back and there's gonna be laundry,' is Shamas's cheerfully resigned last line, as she springs the Y-fronts free from the back of the chair, screws them up and throws them to the floor, where they land with the heavy thud of significance. This rare sight of the comedienne as carpet, trodden all over by men, might be worrying if you were to take Shamas at all seriously, which her material does not warrant. Shamas serves up cream- cake comedy: naughty but nice ('There is language in this show which is commonly used in arguments,' warns a sign in the foyer), its sweet moments melting instantly from the memory.

Old Vic, London SE1 (071-928 1616) 31 Mar, 1-3 Apr.