Something Wicker this way comes

Bird-watching, glam rock and sinister puppetry transform a cult film for the stage
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The Independent Culture

Thirty years after the release of Robin Hardy's 1973 cult masterpiece The Wicker Man, the comedy trio Population: 3 have created an irreverent reworking of this tale of ritual sacrifice.

The Wicker Woman, a big hit at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer, returns to play in a double bill with David Benson's Star Struck at Jermyn Street Theatre. "We have stayed true to the main storyline of the film, but we have put our own spin on it," says Population: 3's Lucy Montgomery, who played the Roman Emperor in Gladiatrix, a similarly piece at last year's Fringe.

Montgomery takes the lead as the policewoman in a gender-reversal take on Edward Woodward's role as Sergeant Neil Howie. But unlike in the film, where Woodward investigates the disappearance of a girl on the pagan shores of Summerisle, she goes to the island with her boyfriend for a spot of birdwatching - and discovers striptease, glam rock, sinister puppetry, and a group of locals bent on human sacrifice.

"We have paid homage to the film, rather than done a spoof," adds Montgomery. "But when Robin Hardy came to see it in Edinburgh this summer, we were in awe of him and his film. We thought what the hell is he going to think we have done to his film? Luckily, he was very complimentary and loved the songs, snippets of which were taken from film soundtrack."

Elements of the film - "the juicy parts" - have remained intact, such as the sexy dance by Britt Ekland's Willow, the human sacrifice, and Christopher Lee's costume. There are even odd scenes taken from the director's cut to please the film geeks, "but the rest we have just taken liberties with".

The Wicker Woman is set on a wind farm. "It had to be an isolated community, like in the film. We had to have a reason why the community would sacrifice somebody ritualistically," Montgomery explains.

This production is the comic creation of the director David Sant, who is a member of Peepolyykus. The director is also a trained puppeteer, which came in handy. "With a cast of three, [Barunka O'Shaughnessy, James Bachman and Montgomery], we had to get across that this is an island populated by freaks, so we use puppets to represent the population." Pieces of the set also transform fluidly and imaginatively. One piece of scenery is hung around one character's neck by a strap; it flips over to represent either the bar in the pub or the control room of the wind farm"

For the play's finale, the figure of the Wicker Woman is brought centre stage and turned into a burning pyre. "We whip pieces of material off it and the dyed material represents the flames. But the whole feel of the play is meant to be shambolic," says Montgomery.

Jermyn Street Theatre, London SW1 (020-7287 2875) 4-17 January 2004