Dickens Unplugged, Comedy Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

Adam Long could not be less aptly named since length is evidently anathema to him. He's the maestro of abridgement – one of the American founder members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company whose zany compression of the Bard's Complete Works to a breakneck 97-minute romp ran for nine years at the Criterion Theatre.

Spoof reductions have become Long's stock in trade. He's condensed the Ring Cycle and Star Wars and now he returns to the West End with a show that aims to do for Dickens what his biggest hit did for Shakespeare. The crackpot conceit is that Long and his four fellow actor-musicians are "the biggest Charles Dickens tribute band in Santa Cruz" and the piece is driven by songs that celebrate Charlie D in rough-and-ready folk-ballad and country-and-western modes.

The tone is established in the opening routine where the cast launch into chirpy Oliver!-type jollities. Nancy warbles "As long as he beats me" and the Artful Dodger invites Oliver home to meet a Jew "who's got a thing about little boys". An outraged Dickens thunders on. Oliver Twist, he berates them, is "bleakly realistic". "That's way different from the movie," is their incredulous response.

Most of the comedy of the piece arises from the mismatch between the Victorian subject matter and contemporary American idioms and attitudes. The male performers may stomp around in long dresses and ringlets, but the values are incongruously modern. "I'm sick of your shit," declares Dickens's wife during a row where they both try to dodge taking custody of their 10 children.

The trouble is that the material is thin and repetitive, a fact that the winning, spirited performances can't disguise. Making no bid for against-the-clock completeness, it rarely rises to the inspired silliness whereby the Shakespeare show managed to cram all 16 comedies and romances into one blissful sketch, "Four Weddings and a Transvestite". The form seems to have run out of puff. Indeed, a suitable subtitle for this latest piece might be "An Abridgement Too Far".

Booking to 21 September (0870 040 0046)