Theatre: On the Fringe

Escape From Pterodactyl Island The Pleasance Gate 45 Young Vic Studio The Yiddish Queen Lear Southwark Playhouse
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The Independent Culture
NATO HAS not yet incorporated the exploding coconut into its armoury, but in Escape from Pterodactyl Island this device proves effective against both barbarian and dinosaurs. Hardly surprising in a luminously absurd production that mixes eugenics, an eardrum-bursting score, a Nietzschean professor called Dr Devo, tongue-in-cheek choreography, Victorian prudery and fetishistic Lycra costumes.

Paul Thornley, as young Professor Worthington, is comically convincing as an English gentleman of the Wodehouse school, intent on carrying out DIY imperialism on the natives. The essence of his performance lies in a revved-up plummy accent and innocently raised eyebrows - both vital for escaping the Jurassic island where evil Dr Devo plans to create a reptilian super-race. Louisa McCarthy brings a hilarious insouciance to her role as Eve, the babe in a fur bikini who wins the Prof's affections, while Sophie-Louise Dann's choreography equips all with Rocky Horror- inspired steps that are funny enough to get laughs when the script fails.

Phillip George's production is more cheesy than an aged bottle of milk - and some of the jokes are just as mouldy. When a mutant pteredactoid resulting from a Darwinian experiment tries to seduce Worthington with the lyrics "Feel the urge/ Make the natural selection", you don't know whether to groan or die, but the balance is favourably tipped by Michael Jeffrey's score, which fills the audience with the kind of enthusiasm that crowd psychologists ought to investigate.

Alison Andrews' experimental Gate 45 also deals with escape, but this is a meditative piece in which two women muse on the experiences they could have if it were possible to evade the constraints of time. Alison Ashton's set design demands to be the star, featuring an airport luggage carousel that becomes a medium for exhibiting objects symbolising the memories, fantasies and journeys that the women create in their conversation.

Gate 45 comes across as an insipid exploration of material it doesn't quite know how to cope with. Like a partying social climber, it frantically drops names to feign a credibility it doesn't possess. From a conversation with Freud, we move on through a sequence of words and images embracing Hiroshima, Gandhi, Vietnam - oh, and Mickey Mouse. Strip it of its pretensions, and you are left with the women's dull musings. If you ever got the chance to time-travel, you wouldn't make this one of your stops.

Nor indeed would you stop off at Julia Pascal's The Yiddish Queen Lear. Pascal's decision to link the 20th-century persecution of the Jews with King Lear could have been an exciting and potent device - both raise the emotive issues of land possession, inheritance and exile - but this badly structured production ultimately comes across as a weak postscript to Shakespeare's masterpiece. The play occasionally comes alive when the cast performs Yiddish music hall - but when the star of the show is the pianist, you know that something is seriously wrong.

`Escape from Pterodactyl Island' (0171-609 1800) to 9 May; `Gate 45' (0171-928 6363) to 1 May; `The Yiddish Queen Lear' (0171-620 3494) to 22 May

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