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Ideas Men

Ridiculusmus
BAC OctoberFest
(2004)

Although the analogy might seem strange, when I think of Ridiculusmus I always think of Shakespeare. Why? Well, the 18th century German playwright and the very first dramaturge, Gottfried Ephraim Lessing, who hated the French Neo-Classical drama that was ubiquitous in his age, wrote that Shakespeare was brilliant because he broke all the rules of drama. Of course, there weren't any rules for Shakespeare to break, not in the modern sense, nor in terms of the drama to which Lessing was referring more than a century later. Shakespeare lived in a blissful age of experimentation, when playwrights could more or less make it up as they were going along. And this is the analogy in my mind with David Woods and Jon Hough.

Ridiculumus are brilliant, invigorating and innovative because they ignore entirely any of the rules that were laid down for playwrights centuries ago, and which are still being replicated in MA Playwriting courses up and down the country. As a result their shows are always surprising, refreshing and anarchic. They are, in fact, braver than the bard, because they are well aware that the rule book has contemporary British drama in a straight-jacket, but they choose to swim against the tide.

And there is another aspect of their work that is striking. They are in many ways Rabelasian, medieval in their corporeality, reminiscent of those carnivalesque farceurs, so feared by the authorities, who performed in the days before such severe injunctions were invoked on the British body and acting became something one did from the neck up. It goes beyond spit, sweat and shagging, it goes further than fisticuffs. For example, in Ideas Men there is an incidence of what might be suicide by chocolate éclair, or the self-inflicted injury of stuffing oneself with cream cakes as a form of self-loathing, torture, desperation. It is very, very funny, shocking and, as an actor's sacrifice for his art, almost awe-inspiring.

Measured mayhem is a term which might best describe their work, which does not, of course, preclude some sort of point to be made. A show about a pair of 'ideas men' devoid of any ideas is just what one would expect from Ridiculusmus and the ensuing seventy minutes could be regarded as a superb piece of dynamic and absurd nihilism. Beneath the surface of this seemingly random anarchy one could see, if one wants to, an attack on the source of our very British creative stagnation.

It is a pity this was only showing at BAC for one night, though they will be back in the Barbican shortly and, no doubt, coming to a small venue near you. I heartily recommend Ridiculusmus. They are just the antidote we need to the well-funded, well-made plays, pretentiously laying claim to cultural efficacy, that make no impact whatsoever on our sensibilities and are keeping our theatres in decline.

I feel rather like an Oliver Twist with my bowl before some Bumblian Arts Council: "More Ridiculusmus, please, Sir".

Rachel Lynn Brody reviewed this show at the Traverse, Edinburgh

Jackie Fletcher