Heaven is just a leap away

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Don't Laugh, It's My Life,

BAC, London SW11

"Release him," begs Georgia, "and let me love again." Well, cut my legs off and call me shorty. This has to be a first. Engelbert Humperdinck is no stranger to the pages of Hello!, but I doubt he's ever been quoted on the fringe before.

Actually, a whole lot of legs get cut off in the latest anarchic theatrical feast from Told By An Idiot. Table legs, mostly. When frankly doolally Gran is not maniacally humming and considering the musical properties of her sharp-toothed saw, she's shortening the furniture. "The closer you are to the earth," she believes, "the easier the leap to heaven." Religious mania is sweeping the household thanks to the arrival of a mysterious, manipulative guest, the outlandishly tall, sanctimonious Richard Katz, who has several suspicious unreligious tricks up his pyjama sleeves.

If this household had a name, it would probably be "Tether's End". Things have come to a not very pretty pass. Barry and his mother have swallowed the religious fakery hook, line and sinker, but his wife and children are less than impressed by the declining state of the furniture, and their loved ones' mental wellbeing.

We've seen this several times before, notably with Feathers McGraw, the world's most famous Plasticine penguin wreaking havoc in the home of Wallace and Gromit in The Wrong Trousers. Moliere, however, got there first with his classic impostor Tartuffe, but director John Wright and his company have fashioned something altogether more extraordinary from this plot.

The family members who buy the baloney all wear masks. Not only does this illustrate who's been bamboozled, it also emphasises the company's wonderfully expressive physical skills. Leah Fletcher's mouthy, gawky daughter is 360 degrees of hilarious adolescent attitude. Mayhem ensues every time someone says "kettle", thanks to a nasty past incident in the life of Stephen Harper's glorious gorgon of a gran. But the carefully- plotted action builds up a serious head of steam.

Yet, underpinning the madness, there's an unsettling sense of unease. Haley Carmichael, as the long-suffering wife Georgia, finally flips. Stiff as an ironing-board, she totters across the stage in helpless distress as rage, loss and frustration flood through her body. It's brilliantly restrained, terribly funny and deeply moving.

"It's ridiculous, it's ludicrous, it smacks of desperation," cries Warren, the son who finally comes to mum's rescue. Ridiculous? Yes. Ludicrous? Certainly. Desperation? I think not. Don't Laugh, It's My Life is more a stunning case of invention and sheer inspiration.

To 1 Feb (0171-223 2223)

David Benedict