First night: Klaxons, Trumpets and Raspberries

The Gate, Notting Hill, London W11

You're just enjoying a nice jolly game of charades at some private "let's beat those January blues" party when the room is suddenly infiltrated by the first-string theatre critics of all the leading national newspapers, who sit down, stare rudely at you and start taking notes. Well, it's that time of year: premieres are a bit thin on the ground and the poor dears have got to review something to justify their existence. You simply wish it wasn't you.

Strange that this fantasy situation should have occurred to me while watching the new Juggling Fiends production of Klaxons, Trumpets and Raspberries, a 1981 political farce by the new Nobel laureate, Dario Fo. This young company is, after all, a professional outfit and people I greatly respect had high praise for their recent stage adaptation of Graham Greene's The End of the Affair. But, at Tuesday's opening of Klaxons, they were giving a pretty fair impersonation of a bunch of embarrassed amateurs, thrown badly off pitch by the unwonted degree of scrutiny.

The play, it has to be said, poses problems. A tricky mix of the loopy and the lumbering, it is a passionately indignant reponse to political and legal corruption in Seventies Italy. Its explicit point of reference is the Red Brigade's kidnapping and eventual killing of Aldo Moro, the Christian Democrat ex-Prime Minister, and the government's refusal to cave in to his captors. How genuinely principled was their stand?

The play imagines a second kidnapping, botched by a car crash, where the intended hostage is not a mere left-of-centre politician but Gianni Agnelli, owner of Fiat and leading advocate of "strong" right-wing government. The crash leaves Agnelli hospitalised, disfigured beyond recognition and mistaken for, and then facially reconstructed as, one of his own left- wing workers.

As performed here, the piece seems to take a harrowingly long time to work up to its all too predictable conclusion: that government, state and institutions are just the "support services" for real power, which is capital. En route, there are situations that have a zany satiric pointedness - for example, the interrogation where Agnelli, presumed to be a terrorist, slowly recovers his memory and starts spilling out such inside knowledge of shady dealings in high places that he has to be silenced with a syringe. Passing references to people like Bernie Ecclestone attempt to merge 1980s Italy and 1990s Britain.

But the execution here is mostly dismal. The cast of four can't handle all the exuberant doubling, nor the shaky-set doors which weren't always locked when they needed to be, nor the switches of tone. Madeleine Bamford, as the Fiat worker's wife, makes the acting in the Philadelphia cream cheese adverts look well up to the standards of the Maly Theatre of St Petersburg. Robert Thorogood plays the two central doppelgangers and also directs, which is asking for punishment. The production sandblasts the smile off your face and leaves you struggling to remember what the impulse to laugh feels like.

To 31 Jan. Booking: 0171-229 5387