Tom, Dick & Harry, Duke of York's Theatre, London

A perfect show for fans of the bland and predictable
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The Independent Culture

"I've nothing against the old folk enjoying themselves," he quipped. And who would? Indeed, those - elderly or otherwise - who enjoy their comedy bland and predictable can have a whale of a time over the Thames at the Duke of York's with Ray Cooney's latest offering.

In Tom, Dick and Harry (written by Cooney in collaboration with his son, Michael) Cooney continues the process of updating his work by press-ganging 21st century concepts into service. In 2001's Caught In The Net, chat rooms became the comic fulcrum. Here, he fares a little better than that gossamer sequel Run For Your Wife with some really rather nasty dead body malarkey and a couple of Kosovan immigrants. But only a little better.

The problem is that for all its attempts at modernity it remains an irredeemably dated affair - from the desktop publishing typeface of the poster, to the cliché of the title Love And Marriage for the opening music, to the open-mouthed eye-rolling, double-taking action on stage.

Younger writers - even that nice Peter Kay whose comedy is a cruelty-free zone - can ring laughs from the bleakest and most unexpected situations. Cooney and son merely make contemporary themes serve hoary old gags.

Even in 1992, when the old chestnut about comedy being the new rock'n'roll, Mr Cooney was still Cliff Richard: massively popular, repetitive and relentlessly unchallenging. This he remains. There is an Irish joke. There is a skit on a drunken Glaswegian. There's even a double entendre about a pussy. Those of us hoping he could resist the temptation to press his titular Dick into a double entendre, were sorely disappointed.

Peter Kay springs to mind more than once, with one of the plot strands - the stowing away of two illegal immigrants in a white van following a booze cruise to Calais - bearing more than a passing resemblance to an episode in Kay's Phoenix Nights. Alongside these funny foreigners, Tom (Joe McGann) and Linda (an underused Hannah Waterman) are having their attempt to adopt a baby thwarted by Tom's n'er do well brother Dick (Stephen McGann) and Harry (Mark McGann).

The personable Joe McGann keeps an impressive lid on his performance while all around others are turning theirs up to 11. Stephen McGann enters shouting, mistaking volume for energy, and seldom lets up. Mark McGann seems to have undergone an entire personality transplant. Unfortunately the donor seems to have been Joe Pasquale.

Big exit lines misfire, and often meet with little laughter. Joe McGann is vocally the strongest, and never messes with the few decent one-liners allowed him. Brian Greene and Sarah Wateridge are given little chance as the Kosovan refugees, buried as they are beneath a welter of alarming no-speaky-de-English sign language and drunken comedy business.

Cooney ties up the flailing plot strands in about two hours. Like some vintage limo, its construction is flawless. Alas, this feat of engineering is too often bought at the expense of laughs.

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