Mindbender

Peepolykus
Battersea Arts Centre
(2003)

One thing about the three-man comedy company Peepolycus is clear to me, though it might not be clear to those who should be in the know: its so obvious that it hasn't occurred to the Minister for Health, nor has Peter Mandelson, architect for a new social order, got enough savvy to suss this advantage out, nor have King Tony and his spin doctors got the nous, nor any of the alumni of New Labour, in spite of their commitment to lateral thinking and new initiatives. They don't realise what Peepolykus could do for them and their ubiquitous statistics by reducing crime, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, the soiling of pavements by doggy doo-doos and the knock-on effect of addiction to ABBA tribute bands on decrepit housing estates with a high unemployment quota.

I have every confidence in Gordon Brown, but even our competent, sexy Chancellor, so committed to social equality, has overlooked an area of potential that will save NHS billions, alleviate the burden on overworked GPs and the boost the economy by reducing days lost through workers' stress.

Gordon, when you are PM, don't do the Tony thing with all the famous actors and rocks stars profiling your street-cred at No. 10. Just invite Peepolykus for a pot of Earl Grey and buttered crumpets in the historical room where Margaret told her flunkeys to sink the Belgrano and give them subsidy to go out and make people laugh. That will make history of a different ilk.

Peepolykus should receive subsidy from the National Health Service to tour the country and bring a delight to audiences with shows that dispel stress, anxiety and depression. In a country where the workforce seems to be more permanently stressed out than any other national territory in Europe, we need Peepolykus. Their brand of easy-going, but scintillating comedy massages the brain synapses with a dynamic humour that is more efficacious and probably cheaper than Prozac.

And there are side effects that are stunning. We emerge from a Peepolykus show invigorated, in a communal spirit, with feelings of well-being that we will disseminate around us as we say hello to people on the street and smile at bus drivers with a short fuse, are kind to beggars, cherish children and generally decide that the world is a nice place, and, maybe, that even the tabloids, the Telegraph, the News of the World are written by people vicious and obsessed by smut and sensationalism because they are deprived: they haven't seem a Peepolykus show! Poor sweet thingies, they don't know any better; they have been deprived of warmth and humour.

Peepolycus should be a jewel in the crown of a mentally healthy nation. They are mental health workers, and not getting any subsidy or credit for it.

The creators of Peepolycus shows have a sound and fundamental understanding of a type of popular comedy that is as old as Neolithic Vaudeville, performed in caves because laughter is fundamental to human experience. They work with the type of gags and audience participation that we all recognise, but they do it with a new slant, delighting us in that they are bending a genre we know so well. This is their strength. We are their collaborators in humour; we are included in the game. This is an apt brand of social inclusion for the 21st century. The audiences adore participating in the mirth and being used as stooges. It's so good and so safe, because we know they love us.

Their latest show, Mindbender, extends their satirical repertoire into an area becoming increasingly popular, and is apposite with David Blaine dangling above the crowds at Tower Bridge and many celebrity magicians milking millions from audiences by following in the showbiz footsteps of Houdini. The main character, Michael Santos, is a gypsy magician, as fake as they come, a showman of great self-assurance but kitsch down to the sleek talk, the sleek shiny jackets and gold jewellery, the sleek patter and self-interest.

But there is pith here as well. During one of his phoney stunts Michael dies on stage. But the guitar-twanging Angels of Death decide to send him back in a deal that will give him their psychic powers, and enable him to redeem the gypsy magician credibility, providing he accepts death at the end of the show. And he does pull off a couple of psychic stunts that, rational as I am, flummoxed me. How did he do it? I don't know, but it was impressive.

As of yet, Peepolykus is not available on prescription on the NHS. I promise I will speak to Gordon about it at the next party conference, in anticipation of his up and coming premiership, and, even if I'm ejected in a straight jacket by his minders, I'm sure he will have heard the word Peepolykus, and explore its meaning for our future, because he's good like that, Gordon is. So, I expect a great future for Peepolykus and the human race.

But if you value your sanity in a world gone mad with corporate power and consumerist obfustication of those genuine communal values that render us happy, sensible, caring human beings, spend a few quid on a ticket to a Peepolykus show. They will tickle your fancy, and your brain, and you will emerge knowing that the world can't be entirely bad when you have Peepolykus in it and people like you who go to their shows. I suppose I'm talking community values here, and a community joined in humour.

Reviewer: Jackie Fletcher