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Published 14 October 2008

Don’t be fooled by the programme or the advertising, there is more to Peepolykus’s production of The Importance Of Being Earnest than meets the eye.

I probably shouldn’t be telling you this for fear of being hunted down by the British government, but really the production of TIOBE, as the Peepolykus crew refer to Wilde’s comedy, is a front to disguise the important true tale they have to tell about a poisoned Russian agent and a genetically modified baby who holds the key to controlling whole populations.

Spyski is theatrical silliness at its most professional, and there is no-one better at consistently delivering such strikingly simple and effective giggles as Peepolykyus. The strangeness of the situation should be obvious to the audience when a balaclava-clad, radio-toting stranger sits in the front row, but it is not until this interloper leaves the theatre that the story can be told with all the subtlety of a Bond villain’s cunning yet ultimately flawed trap.

Peepolykus has mastered the art of mixing theatricality with more strands of humour than you can shake a country-destroying laser at. At the most basic scale is the silly slapstick and physical comedy of stretchable tongues and titter-inducing torture, and the slightly hit and miss wordplay of John Nicholson and John Canny’s script. On a larger scale, the piece pastiches the spy story genre and gently pokes fun at theatrical practices including the current trend for adding live film to productions.

Spyski’s five-strong cast takes on a variety of roles, from Russian dissidents to British healthcare workers, from Wilde’s characters – including a decidedly Spanish “Hearnest” – to themselves, attacking each with a pace and gusto that leaves the audience out of breath; it was either that, or those in the auditorium were struggling to breath because they were laughing so much.

It takes a strong guiding hand to make something this silly while staying within a framework and without appearing childish. Director David Farr, taking charge of his final production as Artistic Director of the Lyric Hammersmith, somehow manages to hold back the anarchy.

With the new Bond film opening at the end of October it would be easy to make comparisons, but unless Daniel Craig introduces Chinese roulette – like Russian roulette, but with poisoned spring rolls – a funk train dream sequence, several layers of reality and scenery openly made of cereal packets, Quantum Of Solace is not going to be half as funny as Spyski.

Of course, if you are a member of the British government reading this First Night Feature, I’ve just made up all of the above. What I actually watched was a rather predictable, slightly over-acted version of Wilde’s much loved comedy.



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