At the start, it's unpromising. The set looks as if it's fallen off the wrong end of an early Pinter - grubby elegance gone to seed. Elsewhere, the place is a rubbish tip. Downstage, a large body stirs from a sofa. The phone rings. The body wanders over, presses the button. “58 unread messages,” intones a voice.
This is the start of For Your Entertainment, the latest incarnation from Jeremy Lion, self-styled children's entertainer and the coming comedy thing. Perrier Award nominee, an Edinburgh sell-out for the past three years and hailed for his “freshness” (we're clearly not talking matters of personal hygiene here), Jeremy Lion, aka comic Justin Edwards, is a fully paid-up member of the belching, bucolic unkempt brigade.
For a moment, you think, Al Murray, Pub Landlord. Then again you think Tommy Cooper on a bender. Then again, a distant Monty Python cousin. Lost in a surreal world of his own and a voice that sounds as if he's swallowed a frog (then again, it may be down to the pints of Special Brew consumed during the two-hour performance along with various other dubious fluids), Jeremy Lion is a monument to tastelessness. But then, which aspiring comic icon isn't? And Lion, in that respect at least, is no different.
Where he does differ is in “concept”. Less a series of sketches than a number of gags, verbal and visual, they're strung together around a continuing show about a bumbling children's entertainer preparing for a gig at his local community centre with the aid of a temporary sidekick, Hilary Cox - the small but perfectly formed Gus Brown.
How you respond to all this, I suspect, depends entirely upon your taste for the goofy, the contrast between the overweight Lion and precise Hilary and your appetite for a Teddy Bear's gobfest that takes the innocence of childhood, turns it inside out and spews it back at us with pop-eyed, sometimes lurid anarchy via an Easter rabbit with chocolate incontinence, a spooky marionette (with more than passing resemblance to an infant Frankenstein), a dead monkey and the skinning of a snowman that would not look out of place in Gunter von Hagens' Bodies’ world.
I have to say much of it left my funny bone pretty well untouched. It'd be churlish to suggest that with Jeremy Lion, Menier artistic director David Babani's run of success may have come to an end. Not only churlish but unwise. The rest of Menier’s audience had a ball.
- Carole Woddis
* For Your Entertainment opened on 13 October 2006 (previews from 10 October) and continues until 11 November 2006.