Stewart Lee: Pea Green Boat
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2002
A confused owl wakes up at sea in a pea green boat, accompanied by a cat - its natural enemy and some honey. What caused this dangerous situation?
Reviewing Pea Green Boat is somewhat redundant, as Lee himself points out the show's strengths and weaknesses in a modestly self-effacing introduction.
Though possibly just a ruse to get us on his side, Lee apologies in advance for the boring bits ahead - although qualifies this by explaining that some bits appear boring, but are actually interesting in this, his "first mid-thirties pretentious one-man show".
But it's not actually a true one-man show, as Lee is joined on stage by Jane Watkins, who provides an atmospheric cello backing, and comic Simon Munnery, taking the joint roles of Edward Lear and Ray Winstone, from Scum, and Sexy Beast.
And it's not pure stand-up either, meshing as it does esoteric and thoughtful rights-of-passage fantasy into a comedy monologue.
At its heart is a hilarious deconstruction of Lear's nonsense rhyme The Owl And The Pussycat, a theme Lee has previously used in his stand-up.
Applying a winning blend of faux naivety and steely logic, Lee ponders the wisdom of sending two natural enemies on such a sea voyage, woefully ill-prepared with nothing more than honey for sustenance.
The analysis is taken to ridiculous extremes, with extracts from the owl's diary, reading like a shipwreck survivor's heart-wrenching ordeal, peppering the narrative.
Heaped into the mix is Lee's research into a possible Lear biopic starring Winstone, problems with the plumbing of his toilet, a statue in the courtyard of the British Library and Lear struggles with hissexuality.
They are all magically, intrinsically - but obliquely - linked in this whisky-fuelled fantasy of parrot sketches and excrement.
Though all these disparate themes and ideas merge in a conclusion of sorts, it's by no means a neat ending with a satisfying pay-off. Instead loose ends and ideas are left hanging half-resolved in the air. But when did real life ever end with an elegant closure?
It's a spellbinding mood piece, where the mood is uncertainty, but with rich seams of laugh-out-loud comedy. It's storytelling, it's stand-up, it's biography and autobiography, fact and fiction.
By all rights, such an eclectic mix shouldn't work - but it does. It's indescribable. But indescribably good.