Lyric Hammersmith, London W6
Opened 13 October, 2008

I always feel rather pompous reviewing Peepolykus shows, trying to describe, explicate and evaluate their humour when primarily they’re just being silly. The company scored a hit last year with a daft three-man version of The Hound Of The Baskervilles which even made it into the West End. They now pretend that they are about to present The Importance Of Being Earnest. (Even the programme claims to be for Earnest, and when they toy at one point with casting thickly-accented Spanish performer Javier Marzan as Jack Worthing they pertly reference their own previous show with, “But maybe a Spanish Sherlock Holmes...!”)
After a few minutes, once a suspicious, armed figure has left the front row of the audience, the performers tell us that the Earnest business is a front: they are in fact going to re-enact a recent shocking chain of events which entangled actor John Nicholson in an international web of espionage and social-engineering conspiracy. Wildean motifs keep popping up: when MI5 re-appear they lunge back into Earnest as a cover; Nicholson at one point suffers a near-death experience in which Lady Bracknell tries to entice him to step into the white light; and the sinister plot itself involves a baby left at Victoria station in... actually, this time in a rucksack. (“A ruck-saaack?!”)
There is some delightfully ridiculous stuff on offer here. Miranda, a nurse with a heart of gold, quizzes Nicholson in his Victorian costume, “Why are you dressed like Colin Firth?” Another character (played by Richard Katz, a valuable addition to the Peepolykus ranks) gloats, “MI5 will make me rich beyond my wildest dreams,” even though he’s playing a Russian oligarch and they seem to have pretty damn wild dreams in that regard. The company even manage to contrive a dippy closing musical number from David Bowie’s back catalogue.
But then I try once more to explain why they are merely very good rather than great, and I use phrases like “not crisp enough”, which makes them sound like lettuce. They are growing ever closer to the magic zone, though: the coarse acting of the opening Wilde extract is all energy rather than precision, but during the spy sequences they commit themselves to the story, which makes it all the funnier. They have perhaps realised the vital importance of being earnest.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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