Rik Mayall: The New Statesman, Theatre Royal, Brighton <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

When The New Statesman first appeared on television, in 1987, Rik Mayall was interviewed by the Daily Mirror under the bold headline "I'm The Right B'Stard to Shake Maggie." In the article the comedian suggested how the antics of his lecherous, amoral Tory MP character would make people sit up and take note of the yoke of Thatcherism they were living under. To some extent he was right.

Twenty years on, the 48-year-old comedian and his writers, Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, would no doubt like to imagine that having their character defect to New Labour would make for similarly effective barbs against Blairism. Sadly their attempt to transfer The New Statesman from the small screen is a case of New Labour, No Laughter.

In the show, B'Stard resides at No 9 Downing Street, pulling the strings like an unholy mix of Peter Mandelson and Alistair Campbell; it was he who engineered the demise of Clause 4 and he who attempted to plant WMD in Iraq to pave the way for invasion, and so on. But while his TV persona allows for B'Stard to scheme and schmooze, on stage he is restricted to an office set.

Overall the rhythm of the show is a, well, laboured round of set-up, pause, joke. When they come, the gags are often old news: "I'm not responsible for John Prescott's travel arrangements," says B'Stard when another character feeds him the line "pigs might fly".

Inevitably, with such an experienced writing and performing team there are some nice one-liners, mainly on the subject of B'Stard's sexual appetite (on the issue of unmarried mothers: "You can't blame them all on me") or his actual under-par performance in the bedroom.

Mayall relishes playing B'Stard and says that he likes that this unwholesome character is laughed at and not laughed with. However, at the height of his powers B'Stard was also enjoyed at face value; his 1980s excess was attractive almost in the same way that Harry Enfield's Loadsamoney was. Tonight, Mayall's older B'Stard is no wiser but lacks that trademark devilish twinkle, the appetite for the fray perhaps like the very man he is meant to be mocking.

Plots and subplots fly hither and thither, but like the 2001 general election, it doesn't seem to matter. While Mayall tried valiantly to hold his own, the star of the evening was Marsha Fitzalan, successfully reprising her role as B'Stards tarty, underhand wife, so much so that you feel she hits the same register that she did in the television series.

It's very early days in this mammoth 86-date tour, so surely things can only get better. Mind you, the last time I heard that piece of wishful thinking from the mouth of a politician, I wasn't entirely convinced.

Touring to 29 July ( www.theambassadors.com). A version of this review has already appeared in some editions