THEATRE

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Do You Come Here Often? is at the Lyric Studio Hammersmith, London W6 (0181-741 2311) 9 Sept-4 Oct

The Topp Twins play The Drill Hall, London WC1 (0171-637 8270) from 12 Sept

"Hello, Mrs Spicer." As paeans of praise go, the line isn't quite up there with "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" but you had to be there. With more than a touch of Richard Briers embarrassment, Sean Foley broached the threshold of the corner shop to greet his inamorata. But who exactly is this retail goddess?

The answer lies in Do You Come Here Often?, the smash-hit comedy from this year's Edinburgh Festival. But were Foley and his co-conspirator Hamish MacColl, collectively known as The Right Size, even nominated for the Perrier Award? No. "This isn't comedy, it's theatre," argued the panel, speciously. This translates as "Silly boys... you created a gloriously funny, surprise-filled collision between slapstick, song-and-dance, clowning and cunning linguistic dexterity and then went and ruined it by giving it stylistic and thematic unity. How stupid to write what could possibly be construed as a play, and then go ahead and stage it."

Pardon me, but I thought this year's Edinburgh Fringe showed distinct signs of life. Eddie Izzard is a genius but if he inspires another post- spotty 26-year-old man to stand up at the mike and say, "Have you ever noticed..." I shall consider the aerodynamics of the nearest blunt instrument. Having completely consumed the fringe over the last 10 years, stand- up plateaued last year and 1997 marked the return of what used to be termed "light entertainment". The trouble is, that sounds vaguely derogatory, the theatrical Angel Delight: a frilly, frothy confection whipped up in no time at all.

Don't you believe it. Whether bouncing along as The Gingham Sisters, donning high heels and higher hair as The Party Girls or dispensing Kiwi wisdom as Ken Moller and Ken Smythe from the Milk Marketing Board, acts such as New Zealand's Topp Twins are seriously funny. These two real-life lesbian twin sisters do for yodelling, spoon-playing and sausage cookery (I swear) what Victor Kiam did for Remington shavers.

Not all fringe news is so good. The Arts Council's underfunding of BAC means this adventurous arts complex may have to abandon its producing policy and turn into a venue for hire. The last hiring company I saw there looked good on paper and turned out to be dreadful. That's what happens when you have no producing input. Time for a funding change of heart?

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