How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, Festival Theatre, Chichester <br/> The American Pilot, RSC The Other Place, Stratford-Upon-Avon

A foot-tapping day at the office
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"You have the cool clear/ Eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth/ Yet there's that upturned chin/ And the grin of impetuous youth/ O I believe in you..." A declaration of love? Yes, but the twist in How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying - the 1962 office musical now staged in a charming revival at Chichester - is that this ditty is sung by the hero to himself in a mirror in the executive washroom.

"You have the cool clear/ Eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth/ Yet there's that upturned chin/ And the grin of impetuous youth/ O I believe in you..." A declaration of love? Yes, but the twist in How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying - the 1962 office musical now staged in a charming revival at Chichester - is that this ditty is sung by the hero to himself in a mirror in the executive washroom.

A former window-washer, this devious tyro (captivatingly played by Joe McFadden) bluffs his way up the company ladder by applying the precepts of a self-help book, only to fall foul of his own ingenuity, then bob back up by outrageous luck.

Frank (Guys and Dolls) Loesser wrote a score that is full of New York knowingness, yet never sour or withering. It takes an uncensorious delight in the travails of its organisation men and their enslavement to "The Company Way". You could say that it was The Office of its day, except that the show also demonstrates how cynicism can hit a level of serenity that makes it strangely sunnier than the conventional "uplift" of more traditional musicals.

The opening item in this year's Chichester season of pieces about tricksters, this production boasts skilful direction from Martin Duncan; an attractive adult-toy look (tilted 2D filing cabinets that twirl to become skyscrapers, etc) in Francis O'Connor's designs; and wonderfully witty choreography by Stephen Mears.

Like Guys and Dolls, this piece's assumption is that all women are set on matrimony and most men will do anything to avoid it. There are spot-on performances from David Langham, a lanky, beaky man who snaps and taps to perfection as Bud Frump, whiny nephew of the boss (a likeably low-key James Bolam), and splendid Annette McLaughlin, who puts the height into "high-definition" as the boss's dim squeeze, who can take everything but dictation.

Again like Guys and Dolls, the show is a kind of urban pastorale, managing to be at once sharp and merciful. In effect, it has it both ways. Consider the all-tapping finale "The Brotherhood of Man", in which the dragon secretary (excellent Beverley Klein) loosens her stays and lets rip revivalist-style. The number manages to be at once tongue-in-cheek irony and straightforward sentiment. How to Succeed succeeds in getting the best of both worlds.

Over in Stratford, David Greig's The American Pilot is premiered in a fine production by Ramin Gray. An outlying community is suddenly landed with the presence of an unsettling stranger, and the show is expertly pitched to bring out both what is intellectually droll and emotionally distressing in the text.

The piece is presented as a story, the characters sitting in a line, like narrators waiting their turn. The drama unfolds to the tingling music of a cimbalom-type instrument. The cast conjure up the setting: a valley in a remote country where a democratic left-wing administration had been toppled, with US assistance, in the early 1980s. The villagers have long resisted the new government. Then America "happens to them" a second time, in the shape of a US Air Force officer who smashes into the side of a mountain, is captured and kept hostage in a farmer's barn. Is this man (compellingly portrayed by David Rodgers) an asset or a liability? That's the question facing the Captain (played with funny-sad lordliness by David Rintoul).

"I guess you guys don't get Daffy Duck" says the Pilot, showing the villagers a photo of his son with Daffy. "Looks like Daffy Duck," says the Farmer (excellent Tom Hodgkins). So near in some ways and yet so far apart in others: that's the effect of the dominance of American culture for you.

'How to Succeed...' to 10 September (01243 781312); 'The American Pilot' to 9 July (0870 609 1110)

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