Little Malcolm and his Struggle against the Eunuchs at the Comedy Theatre

Note: This production transferred from the Hampstead Theatre to the West End's Comedy Theatre on 20 January 1999.

Female fans of Ewan McGregor will be disappointed to hear that he doesn t pull a Kidman in this revival of David Halliwell s 1965 play Little Malcolm and his Struggle against the Eunuchs. Though he seems to relish flashing his bits about on screen, in his first stage performance in five years, the great Scottish one stays fully and scruffily clothed, even hiding his impish visage behind a shaggy beard. The good news is that this modesty doesn t detract one iota.

McGregor plays Malcolm Scrawdyke, the recently expelled art school student who plots a grandiose revenge. With his band of dysfunctional acolytes, Scrawdyke forms the Dynamic Erection Party and sets up headquarters in his freezing Huddersfield studio (atmospherically rendered by Rob Howell s grimy, rain-streaked design). Their aim? To seize power from the castrated authorities - the eunuchs - and establish Scrawdyke as leader of the world. More immediately, they want to kidnap and humiliate the headmaster responsible for Scrawdyke s expulsion.

On stage for almost the entire play, Scrawdyke is no walk-through part. From the opening scene when we witness his morning ritual of forcing himself out of bed, the character rollercoasters his way through macho posturing, frenzied delusions, terminal shyness, self-hatred and doubt. McGregor weathers the mercurial changes masterfully, and his monologues, where he pierces the audience with a direct stare, are spine-tingling.

For all the pinpricks of fascist horror, though, this is not a straight drama, dominated by McGregor s talent. It is a comedy as well and the moments of greatest hilarity are delivered by a fine supporting cast - Nicolas Tennant s stuttering Ingham, Sean Gilder s disputatious fantasist Nipple and Joe Duttine s smoothie Wick. Under the debut direction of Denis Lawson, who demonstrates a keen eye for slapstick timing, the group rehearse their terrorist plans in the joyous manner of little boys playing cowboys and Indians. The wonderful episodes where Gilder elaborates a sexual encounter and Tennant plays a reluctant witness provoke spontaneous, scene-stopping applause.

Lou Gish as Ann, the single female and, seemingly, only sane character, also comes up with the goods. Ann alone is capable of scratching beneath Scrawdyke s blustering exterior to the timid and virginal interior. Sadly, she s made to pay a heavy price for this insight. “When I m angry I know that I m alive, my blood runs, I tingle, I am something,” the little Hitler tells her before he sics his posse on her.

This is where the laughs run out, the play losing some of its power in the extended chest-beating that follows. But this failing in Halliwell s script can't diminish from a wealth of star performances in an outstanding production.

Terri Paddock