THEATRE: The Gogmagogs; Royal Court, London

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The Independent Culture
If Christmas shopping, Christmas lighting, Christmas drinking and Christmas traffic jams are beginning to take their toll, look no further than the Gogmagogs (scanned like "tumpty-tum"). Not to be confused with gods, giants or hills outside Cambridge, this gallant band of seven humble string players is guaranteed to lift the spirits.

In a show lasting just over an hour, their gentle, exuberant cavortings leave a smile plastered on the face. Downstairs at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, these come-again troubadours perform in a perfectly black space, on occasion hogging the Howard Hodgkin effect of vibrant, dense colour, or aping the Polish comic-strip ruse of ultraviolet light picking up on bodiless limbs, armless hands and neckless heads. This is a wonderful show.

Under the direction and choreography of Lucy Bailey, with designer Simon Vincenzi and inspired lighting designer David Lawrence, the Gogmagogs are a group that formed two years ago "through a common desire to explore and release the physical expressiveness of the classical musician". A tall order perhaps and, in all honesty (and some regret), this "release" seems unlikely to spread in the wider world of classical music: imagining the London Symphony Orchestra or the London Sinfonietta donning orange, purple, red and pink T-shirts, trousers, tights and sequinned tops to cavort, even with specially commissioned music (no, this will not do for Boulez or Birtwistle), is not a pretty thought.

Ten numbers written by six composers - Jane Gardner, Roger Eno (brother of Brian), Tristan Schuktze, Luke Stoneham, Stephen Warbeck and Errolyn Wallen - make up the evening. The accomplished septet- three violins (one occasionally doubling pochette), viola, two cellos and double-bass - perform their music without scores, stands or even chairs, and only the slightest of "props". The mood of the numbers is nicely contrasted, Errolyn Wallen's Chorale - a bit of a take-off of Charles Ives - providing a still centre. For the rest, an infectious brand of humour, skill and physical bravado brought loud laughter from the capacity (albeit only 60-strong) audience.

Tristan Schuktze's Die Puppen had the team dressed in curly mops with fixed smiles and fixed (gummed) red cheeks moving like mechanical dolls. A fight "to the death" between the two cellists ended with the spike of the one penetrating the mouth of the other, mock funeral music wistfully marking the outcome. Roger Eno's hilarious Holiday of a Lifetime had all seven players strung out across the stage, one behind the other on chairs, all decked out with baseball caps and grotesquely myopic glasses, mouths open, gormlessly playing gormless music with slow-motion leg movements.

But, for sheer bravado, Stephen Warbeck's Shipwreck took some beating. As each player gently accused another of playing or stealing their instrument, unbelievable contortions arose: two bows played one instrument, instruments were slid away from the performing member, the double-bass player continued to pizz while enclosing a rotating fiddler... and yet the music didn't stop. Too bad the run is so short. A pre-Christmas tonic. Hurry!

ToSat, 8pm Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, at the Ambassadors Theatre, West St, WC2 (0171-565 5000)

Annette Morreau

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