First Night: Ewan's pulling power revives artistic putsch

Little Malcolm and His Struggle against the Eunuchs Hampstead Theatre London

TICKETS HAVE reportedly been changing hands for a cool pounds 200 and it's not because there has been a sudden freak revival of interest in David Halliwell's dust-covered sixties hit. If that were the main attraction, you'd be wanting at least pounds 195 change from the tout. No, the big draw is the stage comeback of Ewan McGregor after five years of waggling his willy at the crowds, sticking his head down shit-blocked bogs, being skewered to some fetching lino and generally being adorably, sexily, Scottishly delinquent.

In Dennis Lawson's highly entertaining Hampstead production of Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs, McGregor stars as the eponymous art student. Recently expelled from Huddersfield Tech as a bad influence, he retaliates by organising his pals into a totalitarian party of four with the aim of staging a putsch to humiliate the head teacher who booted him out. Shaggily bearded and buttoned into a trench coat, McGregor's charismatic Malcolm paces round his tatty freezing digs with the brooding, comically humourless intensity of someone who really fancies himself as Huddersfield's gift to global insurrection.

Malcolm's pals are supremely unlikely material as fascist top brass, a fact that Lawson's excellent cast vividly underline. Nicholas Tennant's podgy little Ingham is a stammering George Formby-like blancmange of uncertainty, prosaically doubtful that they have enough chairs to accommodate a mass movement. Making the average trainspotter look as svelte as Noel Coward, Sean Gilder's hilarious Nipple launches into nerderly frothing fantasies about having sex with a black woman and hearing the tom-toms of her ancestors.

The friends' enactment's of the projected kidnap are more William Brown and the Outlaws than Baader Meinhof.

The play's rather laboured point is that collective violence has its origins in individual weakness and McGregor powerfully conveys the frustration and defensive aggression of the fatally weak-willed. It's Halliwell's fault, not his, that you can't believe in the escalation from the early tomfoolery to the ugly violence of the scene where Lou Gish's admirable Ann is beaten up by Malcolm and gang. McGregor's scruffy incorrigible charm and Lawson's drolly paced direction make Little Malcolm a much more enjoyable experience than you could guess from the printed page.

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