The Ornate Johnsons, Soho Theatre, London <!-- none onestar twostar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Billed as Pythonesque, the five-strong troupe The Ornate Johnsons serve sketches that also owe a debt to The Two Ronnies, Not The Nine O'Clock News and - in a sketch about a hygienically challenged Italian restaurant - Hale and Pace.

While the performances are not stand-out, the obvious combined writing skill of the team ensures admirably paced skits that range from the toilet humour of the aforementioned restaurant sketch, via a surreal skit where Bagpuss is forced to explain just how he earns his keep, to a musical pastiche called "Soft Rock News" where the male and female anchors deliver the headlines and act out a love affair to a Meat-Loaf-esque opus. The latter, with its references to "the Dartford Tunnel of love" during a traffic report, is particularly nice and, like most of the sketches, does not outstay its welcome.

The musical numbers generally work well, with the exception of the last ditty about the healing power of comedy - it "puts a smile on the faces/ of architects and rapists". Notwithstanding such questionable lines, it isn't strong enough to close the show, and a parody of the thin plots of Sixties comedy movies à la Norman Wisdom is tacked on as an equally unsuitable finale.

As is made already abundantly clear with the nods to Bagpuss, Norman Wisdom and also Star Trek, there is something rather dated about the Johnsons' output. Elsewhere the material is contrived; when two commentators describe the pie-eating antics of a corpulent man on his way back from a shop it is very reminiscent of an advertising tactic. I'd rather have advertising steal from comedy than vice versa, but then I suppose it is fair game.

Some of the in-jokes about fringe theatre and writing credits are superfluous but the high points, the tortured creation of the Battenberg and the capture of a hooligan by shopping arcade security men acted out in a Shakespearian style (yes a thespian indulgence, but no less effective for that), make up for them.

The troupe's better ideas have merit and certainly deserve a venue with better sight-lines than the Soho Theatre studio can offer.

To 3 June (0870 429 6883)

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