Excavating Rita

at The Pleasance

While their joint material has always taken an air of deliberate and disinterested chaos, Lee and Herring's solo outings have always veered far more towards a more controlled format. Stewart Lee has made textual analysis into a comic genre, while Richard Herring has dabbled with traditional comic theatre.

His stand-up material has always had a dramatic bent to it, from the illustrative flashbacks of 95's Richard Herring Is All Man, through to the character and monologue-heavy Punk's Not Dead. Both were more acted auto-biography than theatre, but this year's outing finally sees Richard Herring becoming a genuine playwright.

True, Excavating Rita is based around Herring's own experiences on an archaeological dig, but what this provides is an accurate view of life on site. New boy Ian arrives, convinced that life with a trowel will be all lost temples and golden relics. He's soon introduced to the harsh reality of hours of back-breaking soil scraping, chemical toilets, sexism, boredom and inane banter. Half the team want to shag the other half, while the other half carry mattock handles just in case they try anything. Which, from my long experience of living with archaeologists, is pretty much par for the course. These are people who are elated by the discovery of a preserved turd: they generally aren't the most socially functional of individuals.

Against this background of muck and squalor, young Ian is introduced to the other reprobates: Richard Herring's revolting, foul-tempered and sex-starved pro-digger: Jason Freeman's half- baked stoner, determined to prove the existence of prehistoric straw cars: and Nathalie Brandon, the perilously pert young archaeologist that becomes the object of young Ian's teen fixation.

Off course, this play has its fair share of laughs: not least of all provided from a drunken Herring lumbering across the stage, in as naked a state as nature probably never intended an unsuspecting audience to be exposed to. Meanwhile, Jason Freeman scores particular points for his affable but skewed world view. As a stand-up with a growing reputation, his combination of the credulous and the absurdist gives the play a warm heart.

But there's also some real tragedy and poignancy, indicating a new maturity and bitterness in Herring's work. Rather than being the comic vitriol of his more famous and televised material, his writing here stings more than a little, leaving the audience strangely quietened and disquieted by the experience. A quantum leap in a new direction from his earlier works, Herring's growing skills can only lead to further triumphs in the future.

Venue: The Pleasance
Venue Number: 33
Show Length: 1 Hour 20 Mins
Time: 3-30pm
Dates: 6-30 August (not 12, 20)