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LAST NIGHT'S FIRST NIGHT - CALLOW RAVE; Star performance fails to make up for pointless literary spoof.

Byline: with KEVIN O'SULLIVAN

TONY Blair would be the first to tell you that when making a speech to the Women's Institute the important thing is to proceed with caution.

And, as our esteemed leader has also learned from bitter experience, whilst at the podium - try not to sweat too much.

Summarising the edited lowlights of his loathsome career, boorish book publisher Mark Mellon lands himself in double trouble by making both these fundamental mistakes.

Perspiring like a marathon runner in the tropics while manically unravelling before the shocked ranks of the Chichester WI, Mellon exposes himself, at times literally, as a man whose grubby profession has propelled him into the depths of utter insanity.

Simon Gray's play about the dirty business of selling books is a strange affair that doesn't quite hit the spot.

In the lead role, Simon Callow is at his powerful comic best, but it's hard to comprehend why we're supposed to give a damn about an elite professional clever dick getting his comeuppance.

That said, Four Weddings and a Funeral star Callow is fabulous as the malevolent Mellon who takes over a traditional London publishing house and chucks out all the poetry and highbrow literature in favour of pamphlets on snack making, sex education manuals and books about bondage.

Sounds like a good idea to me!

Meanwhile, Mellon's serial unfaithfulness with his high-heeled secretary Samantha (Lydia Fox), illogically plunges him into crazed suspicion of his long suffering wife Kate (Geraldine Alexander) and bit by bit his super successful life is ruined by his foaming at the mouth madness.

All dramatic roads lead to the straitjacket.

Playing multiple roles as Mellon's various authors and editors, Tom Beard adds a nice light touch.

But I'm not sure why director Laurence Boswell decided that the action should unfold on a weird set decorated by thousands of scrawled business charts and scribbled doodles.

To the reliable Mr Callow, top marks. But a single bravado performance does not a good play make.

THE HOLY TERROR AT LONDON'S DUKE OF YORK THEATRE

CAPTION(S):

SPARKLING: Callow and Beverley Klein
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 15, 2004
Words:348
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