THEATRE / London Fringe

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The Independent Culture
AS EVERY theatre director knows, staying on the tightrope in the current climate demands extraordinarily canny programming.

The Theatre Royal, Stratford East, is a splendid example of just that. It constantly overhauls its profile to reflect the concerns and tastes of its hugely varied East End constituency. The artistic director, Philip Hedley, has been placing the initiative in the hands of young local artists. Hot on the heels of two young black groups comes D'Yer Eat with Your Fingers?], a show by Young British Asians. The first night was buzzing with YBAs, but not exclusively, and this is perhaps the most important thing about such programming: audiences learn about other cultures.

D'Yer Eat with Your Fingers?] is a charming, funny show, yet often moving, with the five-strong group tackling the difficulties and complexities of their lives head on, without self-pity. Families feature heavily - in one sketch a girl complains that you need to book permission to go on a date a month in advance - but while the parents are affectionately mocked, so too is Jez, a confused young dude from Birmingham, who bobs around the stage in a yellow baseball cap, Reeboks and a crucifix, and at one point breaks his cool to confess, sobbing, that he's 'free range' and belongs nowhere. The company surveys its own generation as well as that of its parents with a clear eye.

A few of the sketches are weak, but there are also some inspired moments: at one point an Indian dancer, complete with bells, and a young hoofer (Paul Sharma, a very talented performer) do a tap routine together, and this wordless sketch conveys with great eloquence the confusion of influences in these young peoples' lives.

Sam Walters, artistic director of the Orange Tree in Richmond, is also a master at reading his audience. He specialises in reviving neglected curios. The latest, Dr Knock, is a farce by Jules Romains about a bogus doctor who makes a killing by convincing an entire town that all its robust inhabitants are in urgent need of medical attention. Charming and innocent as the comedy appears, its revival is mischievous - Dr Knock could stand for anyone you like, from a management consultant who convinces a company that more bureaucracy is necessary, to a plumber who comes to fix your taps and ends up replumbing your entire house.

Under Walters' direction, the production builds effortlessly into farce. Geoffrey Beevers is wittily convincing as Knock, a dessicated but dangerous megalomaniac, who lifts his mask of mock solemnity only at the end, to revel in the fact that he has the whole town taking its temperature at the same time.

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