Theatre Kiss the Sky Shepherd's Bush Empire

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The Independent Culture
Kiss the Sky, Jim Cartwright's "psychedelic" summer-of-love musical, seems to go on marginally longer than the Sixties did (and I speak as one who was four when that decade began). The piece is set in a free festival in a Lancashire field, but it's not a proper dramatisation of this event and its context, such as you get with the 1969 Cambridge May Ball in David Hare's Teeth 'n' Smiles.

Though it poses as something smarter-witted, Kiss the Sky is essentially a Bill Kenwright-style compilation musical, with songs from late-Sixties groups (Jefferson Airplane, Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band) performed by excellent musicians and variable singers, and with the audience cast in the spurious role of the crowd at the festival. This main happening is punctuated by progress reports in rhyme from a character called The Traveller (Alan Williams), who left Lancashire and is undergoing all the obligatory Sixties experiences: the Wet Dream Festival in Amsterdam, throwing his "freedom brick" in Paris, marching against the Vietnam war in Washington and taking the Indian hippy trail.

The occasional comic flourish - I liked the idea that this character got sacked from a radical theatre group for "fucking in the wings rather than on stage" - does not stop his odyssey through the era's cliches from coming over as a grinding trudge. It feels like seeing your entire early life crawl past.

When The Traveller is sent to review a play at the Arts Lab, the opportunity is seized for a parody of the self-consciously barrier-breaking work put on at that venue. But there's a telling discrepancy: the famous collective's enactment of childbirth was performed back then by naked actors. Here, they resolutely keep their kit on. And if Kiss the Sky can't get the facts right about such things, still less is it able to convey the spirit that animated them.

Mike Bradwell's production does nothing interesting or culturally revealing with the pretence the show has to maintain that its Nineties audience are Sixties festival-goers. In the programme, we're urged "in the spirit of those times [to] go with the flow and turn on, tune in and drop out". Rob Jarvis's endearing MC, so determinedly laid-back he's spread-eagled, is full of sexual innuendo and advice to "keep on the grass. Radical." I wonder what would happen, though, if a group of punters were to take the show at its word and turn it into an actual stoned love-in. I think there might be a certain awkwardness up on that stage.

"Close your eyes and offer first love to yourself and then to the whole world," murmur a spacey, garlanded couple, who also tell us to spread peace to the people on either side of us. (A tall order, in my case, since I was sandwiched between the Times and the Sunday Times.) An easy comic target and fair game. But I was dismayed to witness a couple of young men in front of me sniggering, with the same smug superiority, at the awful but painfully sincere anti-war poem read out by one of the female characters. It was at this point that I began to feel that Kiss the Sky, for all its great music, was a bad trip.

n To 14 Sept (0181-740 7474)