Many years ago the Kingís Head presented a wonderful poetic play by Stewart Parker, Spokesong, set in a bicycle shop in Belfast during the Troubles. The characters in The Bicycle Men have a much less philosophical relationship with their pedals: theyíre all stuck in a French village doing sketches and songs in an old-fashioned revue format.
The theatre is packed, though, because one of the bikers, Steve, is played by Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer Simpson, no less. He turns out to be a chirpy little bald guy with a distinct facial resemblance to Jasper Carrott. He sings a lullaby to a baby that starts off like an item on Playschool and segues into a cynical sermon of lust being love and thereís no after-life.
Steveís wheels are busted, so heís stopped by a repair shop. He mooches off to the puppet show, the bistro and a youth hostel where his sleep is interrupted by a Dutch dork singing a Japanese folk song. This is marginally funnier than the French waiter singing a Latin American rumba number, or the shop owner excoriating fake breasts for no reason at all.
So, itís a revue that came out of the Second City in Chicago stable, premiered in Los Angeles 2003 and surfaced at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe two years ago. Two things donít help it: a pointless interval; and the electric keyboard, which numbs the immediacy of a show like this. What happened to that great Kingís Head tradition of piano and percussion?
Danís pals are quirky enough, and this trio wrote the show with Dave Lewman, the original Steve: the burly, bass-voiced and puffed-up John Rubano; the faintly bizarre Joe Liss, a sort of camp version of William H Macy; and rubber-limbed Mark Nutter who plays the inexpressive keyboard as well as acting as puppet master and cabaret host.
The cabaret hosts a talent contest, first prize a new bike. A strenuous patter song is followed by a dog turd tasting act (not the first time I thought the show was unsuitable for little kids in the audience looking out for signs of Homer) and a fairly funny Broadway send-up, ďIím in a musical, but Iím heteroĒ. Dan just about makes that point, then disaster strikes.
Louie Whitmoreís design of grey stone walls and bunting conjures the village okay, but the show needs a director (none is credited), a live piano and a real overhaul. At the moment, a few cheeky chuckles canít disguise a sophomoric satire falling short of this theatreís old revue standards.
- Michael Coveney