THEATRE: Ridiculous, but quite sublime

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The Independent Culture
IF YOU think fringe comedy means guys standing up and talking into microphones then try The Right Size. Sean Foley and Hamish McColl, who form this comedy duo, have brought last year's Edinburgh Festival hit to the Vaudeville for six weeks. They've come to the right theatre too. Do You Come Here Often? is pure vaudeville.

Two strangers find themselves stuck in a bathroom for 25 years. Foley plays a squinty balding bloke called Kevin Kevin Kevin. (The vicar at the christening had a stutter.) He wears his pyjama top and slippers. McColl plays a grinning public-school type with floppy hair, Marty Feldman eyes and Prince Charles ears. He wears a morning suit. They are a Beckettian couple: the Vladimir and Estragon of the pastel-shaded bathroom, desperate for some clue as to how it is they got there. They are prisoners of consciousness.

They track back. McColl was giving a best man's speech at a posh wedding. Foley was nipping round to the grocery shop to give the female shopkeeper a simpering hello. Kaboom! They are in a bathroom. Here they race through slapstick routines, visual gags, bad jokes and loopy flights of logic. As performers they keep sketching in imaginary boundaries which we buy into and then they go on and trash. When one tries to untie the rope that binds the other, he is told: "Take off the little Velcro bits."

The plucky spirit of boys'-own films underpins their resolve. They must stay sane. They mustn't crack. They mustn't cross the line in the sand. The fake beards get longer and longer and they reminisce about the "happy days" halfway up the beard. They use a loo roll as a rope. McColl carries an egg suspended on wire above his head which Foley manages to smash with a hammer suspended on wire above his head. They play Grandmother's Footsteps the wrong way round (one of them looks while the other one moves.) It's completely bonkers - and very funny, running off at surreal tangents that carry their own logic. Sublimely, Foley joins in McColl's memory of the wedding, pushing past the relatives on the top table and treating the audience as guests in the marquee. When McColl stops thinking about the wedding Foley finds himself stuck in the stalls, trapped in his partner's memory, unable to get back to the bathroom. You don't need to be Mystic Meg to see the right size for these two is going to be very, very big.

If intimate close-ups of some parts of the body make you queasy, don't eat anything substantial before Stalking Realness. There are moments here that turn Oliver Stone into a model of discreet irony. In this stark piece, four performers - or three performers and one DJ - reconstruct events that may or may not have happened when they came home one night to find an intruder had riffled through their most private possessions.

The company, Desperate Optimists, stroll on to a red floor and six lighting stands. A video screen sits on a floor track. The DJ plays music throughout as the performers build up a story, through confessions, interruptions and questions, in a winningly provisional, laid-back way: "I think I may have got some of this wrong." "Go with me on this." "I'll give the accent a miss." This low-key casualness contrasts with the violence of the outbursts. One guy bares his soul, the woman dances solipsistically, the DJ puts an LP back in its sleeve and the video runs shots of goldfish floating past or blood running down a woman's foot or plates piling up that are smashed when the two guys on-stage begin to fight.

This extreme non-naturalism marks an adventurous effort to present narrative from a variety of angles with voices, music and images. It's slightly cubist. Speech becomes part of a larger mix or remix. Desperate Optimists may bludgeon us with the subject matter but the approach itself is full of possibilities.

Dario Fo's 1981 play Klaxons, Trumpets and Raspberries is a farcical political satire about the power of capitalism. Going to see the first night was a forcible reminder of a couple of economic laws. The first was the one about supply and demand. This was a thin week, so the Gate theatre was filled with a pack of national critics. The cast looked as if they'd been ambushed. Jonathan Dryden Taylor's new translation locates the play halfway between Italy and England: they read La Stampa and drink New Covent Garden soup. There are topical references to Bernie Ecclestone and Tony Blair. This is unhelpful. Dario Fo's farces are so un-British, they need all the Italian atmosphere they can get.

In Klaxons, Trumpets and Raspberries a Fiat worker gets mistaken - after a terrorist attack and the plastic surgery that follows - for a member of the Agnelli family. In this new version the 14 roles are played by only four actors. As downsizing goes, this is suicidal, and results in a lot of madcap acting, with the central two roles played by Robert Thorogood (who is also the director). You can see the strain of playing two characters from the jeans that peek out from underneath his suit trousers. A satire on capitalism falls victim to another of its laws - the one about false economies.

'Do You Come Here Often?': Vaudeville, WC2 (0171 836 9987), to 14 Feb. 'Stalking Realness': Young Vic Studio, SE1 (0171 928 6363), to Sat; then touring. 'Klaxons, Trumpets and Raspberries': Gate, W11 (0171 229 0706), to 31 Jan.

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