Comedians are a funny breed – and not necessarily in the ha-ha sense.
Traditionally, it goes with the territory: being a bit of a nutter, the tendency to depression, the knockabout surface with the wobbly underside. Some comics go to great lengths to hide their vulnerability. Kim Noble, on the other hand, has turned his supposed mental instability into the main event. While the audience piles in to watch Kim Noble Will Die, the comic stares balefully, shuffles up the aisle and swigs people's drinks.
His face is smeared white, with Clockwork Orange-style lashes on one eye. His bare, porcine stomach bulges as if he hasn't fully escaped from a straitjacket, and the set is a lunatic's multimedia installation. A stagehand stands with a bucket over his head, projected on to which is a video of Noble's mum, talking about how her son has turned into a hopeless loser, in and out of psychiatric hospitals, who eats dog food because it's cheap.
Those of a delicate disposition should skip this paragraph, and the next. While Noble talks about his mad pursuits, an overhead screen shows him munching jellied meat and retching. When he tells how his girlfriend ran off with his former producer, their names are given, and smiling snapshots of his ex-lover are supplanted by explicit photographs of (allegedly) her genitalia. He says she's trying to sue.
The audience are asked to text dictated hate mail to the couple. Many do. At one point, Noble expels a punter from the theatre for no reason, and compels another to don the bucket for the rest of the show. Both are women. Video close-ups show him sabotaging wares in stores, masturbating, and pouring his semen into feminine hygiene products. The suicidal tendencies of the title are thrown in, with a mock hanging as his aerial finale.
This show, when it first aired early in 2009, was hailed as beautiful, profound, hilarious and inspiring. Did everyone go temporarily insane? It strikes me as deliberately unpleasant and not very funny. Noble may be testing how far he can go, drawing horrified squeals even from a liberal audience. In terms of originality, granted, I've never seen a hand puppet used quite so lewdly, and the sight of Noble pouring baked beans on his private parts is not easily forgotten.
Morecambe is contrastingly cosy: a one-man biodrama about one half of the popular comedy double act. Tim Whitnall's script begins at the end: a newscaster announcing Eric Morecambe's premature death, at 58, from a heart attack. But then Bob Golding's Morecambe – an uncanny look-alike – peeps through the red velvet curtains, eyebrows flickering above trademark specs. Stepping forward, he clamps his pipe between grinning teeth and embarks on a trip down memory lane. He's a jolly soul in limbo, it seems.
The downer is that the biographical material is so anodyne. Eric (né Bartholomew) was encouraged by his mum to become a child star. He and Ernie Wise formed a teen duo. Ernie was nice. No mention of Eric wanting to go solo, nor of his being an obsessive worrier. His private life was perfect, too: wife, three kids. And professionally? A few blips, lots of Baftas. His dicky heart is the only source of dramatic tension.
Still, Guy Masterson's polished production is enlivened by Golding's jaunty brio and ridiculous sound effects – rubbing his eye with a squeak as if he's polishing windows.
Banalities are, too often, the order of the day in A Daughter's a Daughter. Produced by Bill Kenwright and starring his elegant partner, Jenny Seagrove, this is a long-forgotten domestic drama pseudonymously penned by Agatha Christie. In a bland drawing room, towards the end of the Second World War, Seagrove's widowed Ann finds herself caught in the crossfire between her pompous new fiancé, Richard (Simon Dutton), and her spoilt daughter, Sarah (Honeysuckle Weeks). Sarah scorns Richard and, in spite of his civilised veneer, he's equally rebarbative and domineering. Forced to choose, Ann bids Richard goodbye.
What is remarkable is the penetrating bleakness of Christie's take on mother love, for the long-term fallout is that Ann bitterly resents her daughter. Alas though, even with a commendable cast, the dialogue creaks. These plummy characters will keep spelling out their motives. Curiously, Christie seems not to have grasped that playgoers prefer to do their own detective work.
'Kim Noble Will Die' (020-7478 0100) to 9 Jan; 'Morecambe' (0844 412 4659) to 17 Jan; 'A Daughter's a Daughter' (0844 871 7627) to 9 Jan
Tips for 2010
By Kate Bassett
An Enemy of the People: Antony Sher stars in this high-profile revival of Ibsen's caustic play about corrupt business interests. The staging is by actor-turned-director Daniel Evans and opens his inaugural season at the Crucible Theatre, in Sheffield, following its £15m revamp. (0114-249 6000) 11 Feb to 20 Mar
The White Guard: This rarely staged gem by Mikhail Bulgakov promises to continue director Howard Davies' run of gripping Russian dramas at the National. In a vigorous new English version by Andrew Upton, the action unfolds in a farcically chaotic household in Kiev. NT Lyttelton (020-7452 3000) from 15 Mar
The Persians: The National Theatre of Wales gets rolling in 2010, and its adaptation of the oldest known play – Aeschylus' take on the Middle East and military invasions – is to be performed within the MoD's Brecon Beacons military range. The set is a house in an uninhabited village where soldiers are trained how to clear insurgents. Cilieni Village, Powys (01874-611622) 11 to 21 Aug
Face to watch:
Obi Abili, a Rada graduate who was outstanding in The Brothers Size, has landed a lead role in a revival of John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation. Playing the young con artist who hoodwinks rich New Yorkers, Abili co-stars with Lesley Manville and Anthony Head. Old Vic (0844 871 7628) 7 Jan to 3 Apr