David Benedict on theatre

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The Independent Online
"Three handkerchief weepie" is a phrase usually associated with a Bette Davis movie of more than usual excess. But it also covers audiences crying with laughter at performances by Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding, better known as Lip Service. How, then, to explain this deranged cross between a demented bumble bee and an outraged lacrosse stick?

A pair of gifted genre-busters (and irrepressible lunatics) these most English of comediennes are to humour what Joan Collins is to shopping. Austere, academic, restrained, refined... just four words never seen in reviews of their literary spoofs. They met at Bristol University doing a terribly serious production of The Lady from the Sea ("a bit of a tragedy for Ibsen," says Sue) at which point they realised that naturalism was perhaps not their milieu.

Their early Girls in Orbit was a sci-fi show in which two women travelled back in time to the Bunty Annual of 1963. Knit One, Murder One was a detective yarn which Sue describes as a "a very hot show" due to the amount of running on and off involved in playing amateur detective Hilda Gibings, her crime novelist friend and an entire cast of murder mystery suspects all of whom were gathered in a room for the denouement. Margaret I Parts 2 & 3 was Shakespeare meets Margaret Thatcher, while B-Road Movie found Thelma and Louise challenging Anneka in a Bob Hope/Bing Crosby adventure film.

In the autumn they take to the road with Move Over Moriarty playing Holmes and Watson investigating a series of music-hall murders involving Vesta Curry and her Novelty Pipe-Smoking Act and Death-Defying Dan and His Whelk- Infested Tank of Terror. While you're waiting, rush to Withering Looks (below), their unbelievably authentic and sublimely silly study of the Bronte sisters.

'Withering Looks', Purcell Room, South Bank Centre, London SE1 (0171- 960 4242) 1-3 Aug