You can keep the River Cafe - I'll take a pantomime dame any day of the week

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The Independent Online
There is a two-man group playing in the West End at the moment called The Right Size, who are, or so I read, a smash hit in London. So funny it's not fair, says one paper. It is a crying shame that they never won the Perrier Award last year, says another. Go before it's too late, says another.

Well, as I live a hundred miles or more from London, it's unlikely that I will make the trek to the capital and see the new darlings of the West End.

Luckily, I don't really have to. I have seen The Right Size already. I saw them at the Edinburgh Festival a year or two back when they were doing a previous show called Stop Calling Me Vernon, and I saw their current show when it came to the Bristol New Vic, a good time before it ever hit London. Indeed, I seem to remember interviewing the two of them for The Independent and being glad to, as I thought they were almost the funniest show in Edinburgh that year.

I am saying this, not to show off, but to remind people of the gap that exists between London and the provinces. People who live in London behave as if they live in the centre of the universe.

They assume that what happens in London is automatically more important than what happens elsewhere. They assume that the River Cafe or whatever the latest trendy place is called is really important, although they are a matter of supreme indifference to most people in Britain. In the same way that Americans seem to assume that everyone in the world, given the chance, would like to be American, so people in London have an unspoken assumption that we would all like to be part of the London scene.

One example of this assumption is that when London journalists write about this place called the River Cafe, they never mention its address. They always assume that people will know, because it's in London and therefore important and therefore general knowledge. Another part of this assumption is that people always write about the River Cafe as if it mattered, and not about, say, Markwick's. Markwick's? It's a wonderful restaurant in Bristol. It's not in London, so you probably haven't heard of it.

Now, London people are sometimes aware that things are better in the provinces, or at least that there are better things in the provinces, but this doesn't bother them because they assume that if it's any good it will sooner or later get to London - as The Right Size has. This is not true. Yes, some shows and some plays appear in the provinces as a try-out before London, but a lot of things flourish perfectly well outside London without ever wanting to get to the capital.

Example? Well, we have recently been to see Aladdin at the Bristol Old Vic, and I don't remember seeing a pantomime as good in all the 20 years I lived in London. This is because it isn't a pantomime stuffed with small- time TV names and larded with references to TV commercials - it's a home- grown panto devised, as it is every year, by actor Chris Harris, who takes the part of Widow Twankee and is the funniest dame I ever saw.

Some years are better than other years, but this year's is a cracker, and the love scene between Abanazar and Widow Twankee had me, and most of the audience, falling off our seats. It's got a local flavour all through; there are jokes about Bedminster and Cannons Marsh and the Welsh, and even the final communal song is in the local accent ...

Another example ? Well, I said that The Right Size was almost the funniest thing at Edinburgh the year that I saw and interviewed them. Even funnier was a group called Pepolykus with a show called Let The Donkey Go, which I saw later when they came to the Rondo Theatre in Larkhall, Bath. They are coming back to the West Country with their latest show, which I hope to get to see either at the Bristol New Vic or the Merlin Theatre in Frome ... but this will be maddeningly boring to London readers, so I will change the subject to yet another show I have recently seen, being the Bath Natural Theatre Company's hilarious tribute to Rossini called William Tell. I saw this in Frome and again in Bristol, and it's wonderful.

Unlike the others, this did move on to the big city.

The big city, however, was not London but Hamburg. The Bath Natural Theatre Company has always been immensely popular in Germany, and it usually has a good long run when it transfers from Bath to the St Pauli Theatre at the top of the Reeperbahn ...

Never mind. The point is that if any London readers found this column drearily parochial and provincial, they will get some idea of what most of those endless London-oriented features are like for the majority of people.