Note: The following review dates from September 2000 and the production's original West End run at the Whitehall Theatre.
There is no way that an evening spent watching stark naked, grown men play with themselves doesn't sound like a sexual shockfest. Surprisingly, however, Puppetry of the Penis somehow manages to be not the least bit sexual nor even shocking.
Let me refrain. For the first moments after Simon Morley and David Friend throw off their capes to reveal their families' considerable crown jewels, you can't help but sit open-mouthed and gape - and then start to titter in glee as they perform their warming up exercises. But then everything settles down.
For the 50 minutes that follow, the two amiable Australians proceed to twist, stretch, contort and conjure their privates into dozens of different shapes, or 'installations'. There's no worry that you might miss the finer points of this 'ancient' art of 'genital origami' either - everything is back-projected onto a large on-stage screen. There is, amongst others, the Eiffel Tower, the Hamburger, the Imax screen, the Millennium Dome, the Olympic Flame as well as the truly, truly incredible No Dick and its spawn, the Sea Anemone.
While it's a dubious talent - and the mind baffles when you consider how they must have discovered that they possessed it (!) - this genital origami is a talent all the same. Friend and Morley demonstrate, in their own words, 'incredible stretch' and 'amazing testicular fortitude'. (Let me put your mind to rest, though - or disappoint as the case may be - there's no rigidity whatsoever. They couldn't do what they do if there was.)
Unfortunately, aside from the initial thrilling gasps of disbelief (are those men really doing what I think they're doing!?), while a little dick razzle-dazzle might be a diverting five-minute party trick, as an evening's entertainment it is really quite boring. Like watching shadow puppets play dress up. And what's more, a lot of the installations look far too similar.
As befits a show that is much, much more cabaret than West End theatre fodder, Puppetry warms up with a saucy comedy act. After an unnecessary interval, the boys' performances unfold like an episode of Channel 4's Eurotrash, or Ozzietrash I suppose it would be.
'Not very clever, is it?' says Morley at one point. From the stalls' perspective, you can only agree. But then again, if you've actually paid to see a show called Puppetry of the Penis, I somehow doubt you'll be in search of high-mindedness.
- Terri Paddock