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First Night: No shock tactics as lover laments

Clare Summerskill Battersea Arts Centre, London
WHAT LESBIANS Do ... On Stage sounds like it may not be the sort of show fit for review in a respectable family newspaper.

It has the ring of something popular only among wearers of the grubbier type of raincoat. At the very least, I had visions of having my sheltered upbringing rudely exposed by tales of Quentin Tarantino-esque, in-your- face graphicness.

In fact, this show written and performed by the comedian Clare Summerskill was rather likeable, more sweet than shocking.

Dressed in a shiny suit apparently cast off from a game-show host and looking like a cross between Victoria Wood and Sandi Toksvig, she opened with a dig at the potentially voyeuristic intentions of the four men in the 40-strong audience.

"I won't be taking my clothes off. Such a disappointment, I know. Sir, come back."

But overall What Lesbians Do ... On Stage had the slightly wistful, elegiac air of, say, a Romantic poem about lost love. It often had the bittersweet effect of leaving you unsure whether to laugh or cry.

In a sad leitmotif, the hour-long show last night was punctuated by phone calls from her faithless girlfriend who ended up informing Summerskill that she was returning to her former lover

"If you're thinking about it," Summerskill sighed, "don't become a lesbian." Not the most uplifting subject for comedy.

Strumming her guitar, she went on to croon a heartfelt lament called "Why Can't I Find Someone Normal?" "When we go out on a date, my girlfriend's possessive./She'd really like me on a lead, but that's excessive."

By turns unorthodox and uninhibited, Summerskill admitted to giving us "more information than you need to know."

She became cheerier when contemplating the quirks of lesbian life. She was perplexed by the fact that "lesbians are all beginning to look straight. You can't tell who to cruise anymore. I blame Beth Jordache."

That prompted a song, "Pointers": "Certain things give the game away./If she wears trousers to a wedding, she must be gay."

Summerskill also had a good laugh at the expense of those lesbians who congregate at the Eastbourne women's tournament every summer and pretend to be instant experts on tennis: "that ref's crap. Novotna's offside."

The only time Summerskill lived up to the provocativeness of the title was with a great joke about dykes and fingers in Amsterdam.

But I'm afraid to repeat it here is more than my job's worth.