AmaZonia, Bridewell Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

Brazil may be where the nuts come from, but in AmaZonia it's also where they go. Written and directed by Misha Williams, this is likely to romp home as the most bizarre play of 2004.

Re-creating the Amazon jungle might seem a stretch for the tiny Bridewell, but most of the play is set in a bungalow in Carlisle, home of the elderly Brian, whose father, Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett, set off in 1925 to look for "a hidden city containing the remnants of the first civilisation" and never returned. With him were Brian's brother, Jack, whom the colonel always favoured - Jack, you see, was a deity-in-waiting, while Brian had to spend this life atoning for the sins of a past one. Well, fair enough.

We now see Brian telling his wife to send the Queen and Prince Philip his regrets. "How they got our address to invite us to their garden party," he says sniffily, "I can't imagine." Following his father's trail, Brian quickly locates Raleigh, the expedition's Firbankian photo-grapher, who has remained in Brazil. So does Mr de Winton, a film-maker from the BBC who, like Brian, does not heed Raleigh's warning: "No one returns from the River of Blood!"

The two of them find Jack, who wanders about the jungle in a choirboy's robe: "I'm at peace with nature... Crocodiles smile at me." None of this, however, is as odd as Brian's familiar, an invisible woman who terrifies his wife by wafting teacups about, like the ghost in Blithe Spirit. "Throw off your clothes, Brian!" she cries. "Dance with me!"

The acting seems principally distinguished by a plucky desire to rise above it all, the only coherent performance coming from April Walker, who plays Colonel Fawcett's ancient wife, a hilariously maddening matriarch. Strange that one of her lines should be one I've heard from practically every Jewish mother I've known: "It wasn't easy bringing up the Messiah."

Can there be such a thing as an innocuous, crowd-pleasing comedy about Jews and Arabs? Steve R Trister and Martin Brody think so. As, respectively, Shlomo and Sharif in Babba Ghanoush and Bagels, which they wrote with Uri Roodner (who directs), the two promise a tale of "Death! Sacrifice! Big noses!" as they ramble from "a time when the wings of the Roman Empire spread their powerful talons over Asia Minor" to a present-day Irish pub, where they get in trouble.

I liked their contrasting ways of hawking their wares: Sharif hymns the luscious, exotic qualities of his aubergine dip, while Shlomo holds up his product and states: "The chosen bagel." But the absence of animosity or even conflict makes an unreal blandness this show's most notable quality.

'AmaZonia', to 1 May (020-7936 3456); 'Babba Ghanoush & Bagels', to 1 May (020-7582 7680)

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