“VOL 19-11-39

New lad on the block: TV writer John 0' Farrell turns to the novel


Confessions Of A Justified Two- Timer

Who he? One of the UK’s leading comedy writers, O'Farrell was the pen behind the much-missed Spitting Image as well as several series of Have I Got News For You and Smith & Jones. A lifelong Labourite, he's also the best-selling author of Things Can Only Get Better: 18 Miserable Years In The Life Of A Labour Supporter.

So, what’s he peddling at the Book Fest? Approximately the 400,000th comedy writer to branch out into fiction, O’Farrell's debut The BestA Man Can Get has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with disposable razors. Instead, it’s a wish-fulfilment fantasy about a young man who secretly divides his time between the wife and kids and a shared bachelor pad. When sick of nappy-changing domestic

hell, O’Farrell’s Michael simply crosses the Thames for a bout of lie-ins, takeaways, gameboys and nights out on the piss.

The words ’cake’ and ’eat it’ spring to mind. Got it in one. Quite what O'Farrell's own wife and children made of the book's content is anybody's guess.

But is it any good? While the ‘man- in-crisis' oeuvre is fast becoming as dull as an episode of Big Brother, O'Farrell's novel compensates by being sharply observed, darkly funny and surprisingly sad rather than the usual vapid, laddish fare. Depending on your perspective, you’ll either be rooting for the poor, downtrodden husband and father who just wants to recapture some of his youth, or counting the pages until the sad, pathetic wanker gets caught.

(Allan Radcliffe)

. John O’Farrell (Book) Charlotte Square Gardens, 624 5050, 28 Aug, 7pm, £6.50 (£4.50).


Queen Of Spades 3H: Grotesque Russian fantasy Moments into this Pushkin adaptation you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd wandered onto the set of Falco’s Amadeus video. Performers explode from beneath a red velvet cloth in a blur of wigs, breeches, lace cuffs and buckles, to a doomy synth soundtrack, an overture that sets the tone for an hour of high-camp fantasy. The cast struggle gamely to inject some spirit into the tale of a young gambler driven mad by his insatiable greed, and there are some imaginative touches (playing cards coming alive to haunt the doomed protagonist). But the script is so po-faced and the action so stilted that the whole thing ends up looking extremely self-important and unintentionally funny. (Allan Radcliffe) ' Queen Of Spades (Fringe) Art-Vic Theatre Project, The Garage (Venue 81) 227 9009, 26, 27 Aug, 7.30pm, 8pm, £8 (£6).


Mervyn Stutter's Pick of the Fringe idsz

90 minutes of potted Festival fun In the grotto of Pleasance Over the Road lurks this logical hybrid; falling somewhere between a variety show, daytime

TV and a platform for shameless plugging.

Over 90 minutes,

snippets from eight shows (all different every day) are gelled together by the eponymous compere. Resembling a reformed Bay City Roller (but behaving more like a children's TV presenter), Mervyn warms us up with a few gags and songs before handing over to his findings. He's of far greater use, however, when interviewing the performers after each act; moments which are often (due to the varying quality) more entertaining and revealing than the acts

themselves. (Judith Ho)

n Mervyn Stutter (Fringe) Pleasance, 566 6550, until 28 Aug, 7pm, £7/f8 (f 6/f 7).


The Invention Of Love *‘k‘k

Oxbridge don takes a sentimental journey

Oxford, Latin, aestheticism: could this be any more elitist? In Tom Stoppard’s play, Alfred Housman looks death in the face and remembers his past as a student, and the life in which he later became a scholar and a poet. What with the endless ruminating on various academic jiggery pokery, The invention Of Love is not only self- consciously clever but, at the same time, wildly inaccessible. That is not to say it isn't a good production; the performances are sensitive and engaging, particularly the older Housman. So, if you’re up on Plato, Socrates et al then this is for you, but if the Homer you know is yellow and likes doughnuts, it’s probably not.

(Viv Franzmann)

a The Invention Of Love (Fringe) St Mark’s (Venue 725) 226 5738, until 26 Aug, 2. 70pm, £6 (£4).

THEATRE El Dorado ***

Grotesque mythical creatures go for gold

The Spanish Conquistadors’ bloody search for the mythical golden kingdom of El Dorado was a case of obsession bordering on madness. Umo Ensemble interpret their story in the style of ’Bufioon Theatre', inhabited by fantastic creatures derived from the outcasts of medieval society. If you haven’t

experienced the style before you're in for a visual treat, the grotesque costumes appearing like something out of a child's nightmare. With live musical

theatre comedy dance music books

accompaniment, their mocking antics are highly comedic yet strangely touching. Mixing impressive physicality with visual flair this is a truly unique take on the search for the cities of gold. (Louisa Pearson)

a El Dorado (Fringe) Umo Ensemble, Pleasance (Venue 33) 556 6550, until 28 Aug, 7.75pm, £7.50/E8.50

(£6. 50/f7. 50).


Freebird *‘k‘k

Easy Rider goes wild in the country

Three big men and three big machines: Fred, Grouch and Tyg are bikers and they're off to the West Country (.7) to seal a drug deal for the ’chairman’. Despite numerous attempts to give Freebird some emotional depth with talk about ’life’, the plot and the laughs essentially revolve around the consumption of drugs. Rather like hearing about someone else’s dream or holiday, there is only so much you can take. However, there are some funny lines 'l'd rather get in a pig than a mini’ the characters’ banter is authentic and the cast strong.

(Viv Franzmann)

Freebird (Fringe) Pleasance (Venue 33) 556 6550, until 28 Aug,

7.30pm, £6.50/E750 (f5.50/£6.50).

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26 THE UST FESTIVAL GUIDE 24 Aug—2 Sep 2000