THEATRE / The Fringe: When the game is up

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The Independent Culture
Celtic culture is currently being shown in a less than serious light on the London fringe. At BAC, Ridiculusmus's staging of The Third Policeman, Flann O'Brien's surreal comic novel, glories in Irish caricatures and cliches, while at the Old Red Lion in Islington it's the turn of the Welsh national psyche to come under merciless comic scrutiny.

The Ghost of Morgan Morris, presented by the Wales-based Bone Cruncher theatre company, is set in the Welsh valleys, where Morgan Morris resides with his national shortcomings. Morris, having enjoyed fame on the rugby pitch as Welsh full-back, is adapting badly to being dropped from the team because of his advancing age and expanding waistline.

He tries teaching, but one night, while slogging through the unremarkable essays of 5F, strikes on an idea for a new career better suited to his sizeable ego. Having spent half his life as one national stereotype, he decides to live out the rest as another, and takes up his pen to write stirring poems about his experiences in the scrum. Despite the fact that his work is somewhat derivative ('Do not go gentle into that ruck. . . ') and extraordinarily talentless, Morris flourishes for a while around the pubs and clubs of small-town Wales. But then drink and egomania take their toll.

This black comedy by Tim Rhys and Peter Jones is bizarre in the extreme, yet oddly enjoyable. The central story of the rise and fall of Morris is lurid, funny and sad, and well played by Wyndham Price as a stocky, blustering, wild- eyed man, desperately mediocre and insecure behind his bragging. It's hard to work out what the irrelevant and ungainly framework to the story is doing there, apart from providing a vehicle for more satire, and some of the dafter moments are plain silly. But it has an appealing, surreal quality, irresistible to anyone well versed in the worlds of rugby and poetry.

Odder yet is Felicien Marceau's The Egg (Camden Studio Theatre, NW1), in which Emile is bewildered by the workings of society - which he refers to as 'the system' and likens to an egg (impenetrable and smooth). One of those young French Fifties heroes with a great regard for his own intelligence and little but contempt for everybody else, Emile (Mark Evans) treats the audience to the story of how he cracked 'the egg' by marrying money and committing a perfect crime.

The play is funny, and interesting as a period piece, offering a reminder of the preoccupations of the day, and illustrating the experimentation with form that was going on in theatre. Emile can stop the action at will to make catty remarks about his relatives or to toss out amateur existential musings. But theatre-goers who like a meaty drama will find The Egg insubstantial fare.

'The Third Policeman' (071-223 2223); 'The Ghost of Morgan Morris' (071-837 7816); 'The Egg' (071- 916 4040).