Little Malcolm And His Struggle Against The Eunuchs, Octagon Theatre, Bolton

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The Independent Culture

When he was a rebellious Huddersfield student, David Halliwell splashed green wash over an innocent pastel drawing and found himself abruptly expelled from the school of art. Little did the authorities realise that by ejecting him they were sowing the seeds of the Dynamic Erection Party, the alternative political voice at the heart of Halliwell's subsequent play, Little Malcolm and his Struggle Against the Eunuchs. Forty years on from its premiere, Halliwell's expression of Sixties frustration and dissent in Little Malcolm is given voice again in a refreshingly economical and compelling production by Mark Babych at Bolton's Octagon Theatre. The writing fizzes with ideas, and if there sometimes seem to be too many words, they are delivered with fantastic energy.

Little Malcolm is presented as part of a short season under the title Men Behaving Badly, and they don't behave much worse than the members of this would-be radical group when, in a moment of shocking misogynistic violence, they turn on the object of Malcolm's desperate but impotent lust.

Frustrated in life and in love, Malcolm Scrawdyke (Paul Simpson) rages against the art-school principal who kicked him out and at all those by whom he feels excluded. From party HQ, his squalid flat at 3A Commercial Chambers (ingeniously designed by Patrick Connellan), he plans his revenge on the eunuchs who run not only the art school but also the world. A right little dictator, possessed by big ideas - one moment posing Napoleon-style; the next, reading Mein Kampf, then sporting a fur ushanka - he enlists three friends into the party.

Such revolutionary aims as "their October Revolution, their Easter Week, their 20 July, their burning of the Reichstag, their conquest of Mexico" are of less interest to Malcolm and his followers than the chance to enjoy absolute power for its own sake. Their whims, Malcolm says, will serve as a new morality, and "agony will be the order of our new day." Ingham (William Ash) is so indecisive that it's easier to go along with Scrawdyke's plans than resist. The besuited Wick, given a storming portrayal by Graeme Hawley, is up for an adventure without giving too much thought to the consequences.

But not all party members toe the line as Scrawdyke expects. A shambling Nipple (Jeff Hordley) is a bit too clever with his questions for little Malcolm's comfort, and he pays for it. Out goes the duffle-coated, would-be writer - but not before he has delivered a tour de force of a speech describing his "act of pure savage elemental being" with a girl at a party: "'Uddersfield dissolves, Yorkshire disappears", and the set, rather than the earth, moves.

To 21 February (01204 520661)

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