Theatre: Surrealists on ice
ARCTIC BOOSH LYRIC STUDIO, HAMMERSMITH LONDON
Saturday 18 December 1999
Many people in the audience at Arctic Boosh may have felt exactly the same way - but they are supposed to. Surrealism is a grievously overworked word in comedy these days, applied to any old substandard Bob, Vic or Harry. But Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding's two-man show truly merits the epithet. It is Surrealist with a capital S. Like the Magritte painting of a train emerging from a fireplace, Arctic Boosh deliberately juxtaposes the most absurdly incongruous elements.
The show opens with an inexplicable scene of two men in wolf masks and red cagoules dancing round a sparkly egg on an iceberg - and just gets more incomprehensible from there on. At one point, Noir (played by Fielding) tells his boss, Howard Moon (Barratt), that he couldn't fetch a list of new postal routes because "my eyebrows came alive and took me to the German moon."
In Booshworld, it is perfectly normal to see a man wearing a poncho, a sombrero, a balaclava, Polo mints over his eyes and catfish tendrils in his mouth - for no discernible reason. The point is, there is no point.
The show could easily suffer from a bad dose of Emperor's New Clothes. It must be a piece of cake, you say to yourself, to create a comedy act just by chucking together at random a few unrelated references to Savlon and Jiffy bags. But this sort of show is not as easy as it looks. It takes a lot of preparation to make things appear so unprepared.
Barratt and Fielding are also beguiling performers, able to win audiences over with a mixture of dance, rap and slapstick (Fielding has a great time with a pair of comedy snow-shoes). And they can do gags, too. When Moon is sent to ply the Arctic postal route on his own, he is so lonely he is reduced to addressing the elements. "Wind, my only friend," he declares - only to hear it whisper back: "I hate you."
Arctic Boosh is never going to win any awards for plotting, depth of characterisation or the ability to keep a straight face. But it scores as an infectious celebration of daftness. It's as mad as a waltzing yeti.
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