Bottom 2001: An Arse Oddity

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

The show's called Bottom, this instalment is subtitled 2001:An Arse Oddity, and the poster shows our protagonists emerging from a cartoon anus.

Even if, by some freak, you were unaware of the previous work of Rik Mayall and Ade Edmonson, you could probably hazard a guess that sophistication is not going to be the order of the day.

Which is a shame, because Bottom always hinted at something more substantial. Two frustrated inadequates, forever destined to be trapped together by their failings, blaming each other for the inevitable and hopeless situation and never, ever being able to leave.

But whenever the subtext dares to even suggest itself, they pull back and bash each other senseless with hammers. After all, this is slapstick, not Steptoe.

And how the ultraviolence is lapped up. For, however clever they could be, these two always get their biggest laughs with the well-aimed baseball bat, not the well-aimed mot juste - and you don't mess with a winning formula.

At the start of this new show, the pair find themselves not in the squalor of their dingy Hammersmith flat, but stranded on a sun-kissed desert island.

It does smack of the gimmick - in the same way the Grace Brothers staff decamp to Spain for the Are You Being Served? movie - and it does destroy some of the sense of eternal failure of the characters forever confined to the same dismal location.

But things are soon back to normal, with the familiar mix of juvenile set pieces, cartoon violence and creaky puns from the music hall era.

In fact, for all the swearing and prurient content, Rik and Ade really are children of variety. They even say of the audience: ' know they're out there. . . I can smell them' - which was an old line even when Morecambe and Wise used it.

The only thing that's changed are taboos about sex and violence, which means the entendres are single rather than double and the slapstick sadistic rather than knockabout, but the heritage is obvious.

And, like the stars of yesteryear, the pleasure is in simply seeing these two perform.

It is a joy just to watch them revel in the roles they've played for the past 20 odd years, teasing each other and the audience with the predictable.

And with two decades of experience, these two certainly know how to whack each other with a spade and make it look convincing. Because for all the no-brain set-ups, every cartoonish set piece is spectacularly well staged.

Having said that, Mayall and Edmonson do get more experimental in the second half. Inexplicably transported from their island paradise to a featureless pod, the two are now physically as well as mentally trapped, and the metaphors about their endless purgatory become much more literal.

This is where the show gets cleverer than you might expect, and a welcome change of emphasis it is, too. There's postmodern references to their characters and the actors who play them, real desperation at the hopeless situation they're in and, of course, the hammer in the bollocks. Because, again, as the premise gets interesting, the slapstick, literally, kicks in.

These two know what their public wants. And what their public wants is a smack in the head.

Ultimately, the fourth wall is completely demolished, and the duo end up addressing the audience from the set of a sealed pod, not the pod itself, in a tirade culminating in rather a pathetic song about pants.

Other than this, 2001: An Arse Oddity is an enjoyable show on many levels. But you can't help feel that their two masters - exaggerated, foul-mouthed slapstick and subtle tragi-comic situational comedy - make uneasy bedfellows.

Steve Bennett
Southend
September 2001

Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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