The Man with Green Hair

Bristol Old Vic

When I was starting out as a theatre reviewer I was told that on no account should I leave before the end, no matter how awful the play, in case the theatre burned down.

This is the kind of production that has me reaching for my matches. is a disaster of such monumental qualities as to leave a critic virtually speechless. All one can do is gaze up at this Everest of excrescence and mutter breathlessly: "It's bad!" But I'll try.

Somewhere in Cornwall, a water company has had a slight mix-up with its chemicals and poisoned the water supply. The mustard-keen pollution control officers want to expose the dirty dealings, the water company and the government want to cover it up. The local community side with the water company, for fear of destroying the lucrative tourist trade. The Man With Green Hair could be An Enemy of the People set against the background of Camelford and water privatisation, and played as black comedy - a farce with a socio-political twist. Unfortunately, the water is not the only thing that stinks. It is puzzling that playwright Nick Darke, with more than 20 plays to his credit, seems unable to structure dramatic dialogue. The same lines are repeated to and fro and over and over, as if the Copy/Paste function on Mr Darke's word processor had gone into overdrive. The characters are not so much cartoons as stick figures, whose utterances and actions are controlled not by consistency, internal logic or reasoned motivation, but by the need to set up the next "funny bit".

It is a script that attempts to make up for depth, structure and coherence with a surfeit of research and a reliance on the sort of jokes which even today's enfeebled television sitcoms would reject. It gets its biggest laughs from an extended series of fart noises and a man wearing a hard hat on top of a baseball cap. It lacks the sophistication and structure vital to good farce, whilst failing to show the poignancy required for black comedy. Worst of all, it's just not funny.

This production also lacks the necessary acting talent, with a cast who would be outshone by any half-decent am-dram company. Mike Shepherd's performance as Milt, the pollution fighter who drinks the contaminated water, consists of an interminable procession of grotesque contortions which plumbs such depths of hamming as to qualify as one of the worst performances I have seen on any stage, professional or amateur. The only person to come out of the production with any credit is the designer Mick Bearwish, with an inventive and well-dressed set and some nice special effects. Bristol Old Vic has a reputation for staging theatre which is generally thought-provoking and well-performed. With , they have given the magnificent Theatre Royal over to a production which would sit more comfortably in a draughty church hall. If you avoid one play this year, make it this one.

Runs until 29 November