Condors, Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler's Wells ** <br/> Faultyoptic, ICA, London ***

Daze of the manic Condors
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The Independent Culture

The Condors are a Japanese dance-film-comedy troupe who throw very different sketches together, then stir vigorously. Dance scenes are followed by fake advertisements, and fart jokes sit next to poetic sea scenes. The rough edges can be tiresome and there is a lot of padding.

The mix of sketches, surrealism and silliness has prompted comparisons to Monty Python. Their style is very different, though, with none of the Pythons' deadpan polish. Everything is deliberately low-tech.

When these 11 men bounce around to Western pop music, it looks less like a straightforward dance number than a routine worked up in someone's bedroom. Some of these performers have considerable speed and gusto. It's all done with an appealing manic energy, but the repetition, poor pacing and mock-clumsiness can lose its charm.

A bombastic title sequence early in the show promises Jupiter: Conquest of the Galaxy. Various Condors are superimposed on to footage of world monuments. They leap in the air, flying past the Statue of Liberty, the Pyramids, the Arc de Triomphe.

Next, astronauts try to eat on a planet without gravity, which means that, as they put food into their mouths, other Condors turn them upside down and jiggle them. In slow motion, a goalkeeper catches David Beckham's bending ball. One performer carries the ball, and three more lift the goalie as he dives in pursuit.

Some sketches are lost in translation. A Sesame Street parody is full of puns that don't work in English. The football sketch has its script recited from the side of the stage. I liked the Condors' dogged insistence on local colour, though: "We will meet in WH Smith's at King's Cross Station!" But even this sagged after too much repetition.

The seaside number is the sweetest. The waves are represented by two lines of Condors. One guy lies with his legs in the air, his white-shod feet flapping - he's a seagull. The hero surfs through the waves, before being rolled to the shore.

Two men get into a halting conversation. One is withdrawn and depressed, his face and body painted blue; the other tries to cheer him up. The relationship is made clear through body language alone. But these are puppet bodies, the expressive movements made by papier-mâché and cloth.

Soiled is an eccentric puppet drama, appearing as part of the London International Mime Festival. It was created, and is performed by, Gavin Glover and Liz Walker of FaultyOptic Theatre of Animation, a British company that celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Soiled is surreal, and loses the plot at times, but the characterisations are remarkable.

The puppets are smaller than life-sized, and worked by hand. Glover and Walker are hidden by shadows and dark clothing. The characters are not naturalistic: they have rough skins, wide mouths and small eyes. The blue man's caged bird is a woolly, triangular mound, faded yellow, with ridiculously small wings.

Climbing out of its cage, the bird keeps up a stream of squeaking complaint, before climbing down a ladder, hauling itself on to a platform and trying to walk a tightrope. This is done with such gusto that we applaud the last, successful rope-crossing.

The hero is blue because he's lost his beloved, a mermaid who died in a bizarre scissors-stabbing incident. An extended film sequence with silent-movie captions shows their meeting in the park, their trip to the seaside, and her mysterious death. The blue man finds the scissors buried in the aviary. Did the bird do it?

The storyline sinks into weird digressions. The blue man gets into a fight with a headless boxing ballerina. Another character looms over him, vomiting sand. At this point, Glover and Walker move from the blue man's well-lit home to a shadowy set, with live action projected on to a screen.

The camera climbs the steps of this second set, moving from one blurred scene to another. Someone works away underground, obscured by falling sand. The canary peers through a window, and a body lies in a glass coffin. This sequence is dull, with movement and image lost in shadow. We catch glimpses of the characters, but there's no room for characterisation.

It returns at the end, in a touching final scene. Back at home, the blue man is comforted by a Good Samaritan. Soiled ends with the two puppets sitting together, in friendliness and resignation.

FaultyOptic runs until 18 January (020-7930 3647)

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