Arts Theatre, London WC2
Discovered in a red pencil spotlight dressed in black wig, black silk shirt, tights and spike heels, a figure rears up with outstretched arms. It isn't a bird, it's certainly not plain, so what is it? It's Nigel Charnock. His powerhouse solo performances are a dazzlingly energetic cross between theatre and dance in which searing mock-confessional meets stand-up.
Possessed of a whippet-like body and lungs seemingly on loan from Liza Minnelli, Charnock thinks nothing of hurling himself into his punishing choreography, then launching into cunningly intercut show-tunes. This is the first time anyone has used Brigadoon to underline an explicit display of sex and death.
He prowls around the stage cajoling, daring and teasing us with truths and tall tales about love, lust and self-loathing. As with his previous shows, the focus is on sexual confusions, but this time morality looms large as he kicks off (literally) with a tirade against the bisexual ex- lover he has murdered. "An emotional tourist who was up me with his Nikon," he spits. As ever, horror is offset by a wildly alliterative, punning use of language: "Shafting a showbiz shirtlifter ... What I didn't expect was all that blood."
Pulling back from this Fred West Side Story, he plays with the whole business of show, mocking his talent with comic dance pastiches, or switching mood in an instant. One minute he's telling us about running naked around John Lewis, the next he's skirting blasphemy to discuss his relationship with Christ - "The feeding of the 5,000 ... I did most of the catering for that."
Yet for all his technical command, the show lacks real emotional impact. It's too diffuse. His bathetic, clipped dance to Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence in a love scene from Private Lives is marvellously funny, but his recitation of Blake's "The Sick Rose", for all its lofty self-disgust, falls flat. Even more complicated is the seemingly true story about his Jewish father having an affair with a Nazi in the shadow of a concentration camp.
You need a watertight structure to hold such dangerous and diverse material, but too often the position of set-pieces feels random. To include and excuse anything by the question "Is this being human?" is not enough. But then, complete dramatic success or no, I'd rather watch Charnock's no-holds-barred ambition than most other people's half-hearted, safe success.
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