The Mystery of Irma Vep, Royal Lyceum

The Mystery of Irma Vep ****, Royal LyceumTHROWING around enough humour and knockabout silliness to blow even the worst case of recession blues back into the 1930s, Andy Gray and Steven McNicoll ensure that this gothic parody sings all the way to the laughter bank.

Gray, in particular, is on his best form for a long time.

As a two-hander with at least eight big characters, Irma Vep gives him a series of roles that don't just allow him to be very, very silly indeed, but which also challenge him.

Nor is he alone in a production that gives both actors the freedom to upstage each other at almost any point. McNicoll proves himself to be every bit Gray's equal when it comes to the comedy, putting in a turn which is as good as anything he has done since appearing at the Lyceum in Laurel & Hardy back in 2005.

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Taking its cue from the sort of classic black-and-white gothic horror movie that was once the staple of wet Saturday afternoon television schedules, Charles Ludlam's script – which he subtitles "a penny dreadful" – starts off by doffing its cap to Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca.

It's set in Mandacrest, a lonely mansion where Lord Edgar Hillcrest (McNicoll) has brought his lovely second wife Enid (Gray). His first wife Irma's maid Jane (McNicoll) is far from happy, but the gardener Nicodemus (Gray) would break his own wooden leg in defence of his new mistress.

Soon Gray and McNicoll are huffing and puffing their way up and down the creepy staircase – only to appear through the French windows from the misty moors outside, where the wolf which caused the death of Irma Vep's only son still roams, and a werewolf is said to live.

Yet, no matter how much the duo play with the audience and each other over the fact that only two characters can ever be on stage at one time, neither performer drops from the particular character they are playing at that moment. Indeed, they succeed in creating such consistent illusions that this easily rises above the level of a basic comedy.

Which is not to say that there is not more ham on display here than would be comfortable in an Ayrshire pig farm. It is just that director Ian Grieve has found the right balance between hamming it up and giving the source material of the parody the full respect it deserves.

A thoroughly entertaining piece of comedy which sees two of Scotland's great comedy actors at their best.

Run ends 14 March

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