Theatre: Triumph of the bedsit revolutionaries

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The Independent Culture


TICKETS HAVE reportedly been changing hands for pounds 200 - and not because of any sudden resurgence of interest in David Halliwell's dust- covered Sixties hit. If that were the main attraction, you would be wanting at least pounds 195 change.

No, the big draw is the stage comeback of Ewan McGregor after five hectic years of waggling his willie at the multitudes, sticking his head down shit-blocked bogs and generally being adorably, sexily, Scottishly delinquent on screen.

In Denis Lawson's highly entertaining Hampstead production of Little Malcolm and His Struggle against the Eunuchs, McGregor stars as the eponymous art student recently expelled from Huddersfield Tech as a bad influence. He retaliates by organising his pals into a totalitarian party of four (replete with fascist fist salutes, kangaroo courts and vicious expulsions) with the aim of staging a putsch to humiliate the teacher who booted him out. It's a putsch that never gets beyond the door.

Shaggily bearded and buttoned into a trench coat, Malcolm paces round his tatty, freezing digs with the brooding, comically humourless intensity of someone who really fancies himself as Huddersfield's gift to global insurrection. When he is alone, this pose shatters into stuttering torment at the timidity of his approach to the girl he admires.

As Lawson's excellent cast vividly underlines, Malcolm's chums are supremely unpromising material for turning into fascist top brass. Prosaically worrying about whether they have enough chairs to accommodate a mass movement, Nicholas Tennant's podgy, dithering Ingham would make George Formby look like Oswald Mosley. Sean Gilder's hilariously nerdy Nipple ("The Greatest Sucker of 'em all") is too busy having frenziedly self-deceived sex memories and mystical visions about the gas works to be much use.

The friends' fantasy enactments of the projected kidnap are more William Brown and the Outlaws than the Baader- Meinhof gang and there is a splendid sequence, brilliantly poised between the charmingly innocent and the nascently nasty where McGregor and Joe Duttine's wonderful Wick go into a ludicrous jazz jive while plotting the Final Solution of the Human Question.

The play's rather laboured point is that collective violence has its origins in individual weakness and McGregor powerfully conveys the enraged frustration of the terminally weak-willed. It is Halliwell's fault, not his, that you cannot believe in the escalation from early tomfoolery to the ugly violence of the scene where Lou Gish's plain-speaking Ann is beaten up by Malcolm and gang for no greater offence than having seen through them.

It says a lot for the leading actor's charm that he can regain the audience's sympathy after this. McGregor's Malcolm begins the play completely hidden under the bedclothes, trying to get up. "The will!" he cries, his fist making a farcical fighting bulge under the bedspread. At the end, after he has had to muster far greater moral courage, McGregor's little double- take of incredulity when he succeeds is terribly touching. A fine production of a not so fine play.

A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's newspaper