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Village idiots play the fool

THE funniest moments in Neil Simon's comedies usually have to do with the coming together of completely opposite personalities -- Felix and Oscar in The Odd Couple, for instance, or Paul and Corie in Barefoot in the Park.

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Fools (given its Scottish premiere at the end of last week at the Chandler Studio, RSAMD, Glasgow) takes such incongruity to whimsical extremes.

Young Leon is a school teacher positively glowing with the higher joys of education while Sophia, whom he loves at first sight, is as supremely ignorant as she is lovely. Ah! 'tis the curse of Kulyenchikov at work . . . or rather a cheerfully scratched together plot line which borrows various elements from Chekovian short stories, fairy tales and pantomime, to create a seriously silly farce.

Events before the curtain rises (in around 1890) mean that everyone in the Russian village of Kulyenchikov has been cursed with profound stupidity. Enter our school teacher hero, Leon, who knows nothing of this, of course, but has arrived to bring culture, the classics, philosophy, et al to a community that can't tell the day of the week or in some cases even remember its own name.

What follows is pretty much boy meets girl stuff, frequently enlivened by Simon's exploitation of the inevitable misunderstandings that arise between Leon and the villagers. There are some splendid one-liners, some delicious running gags but frankly the script lacks the incisive sparkle that one expects from Simon.

Is it a happy ending? Well the curse is lifted but when everybody gets smart, the going gets more realistically worldly in the village, though, for Leon, it's a chance to settle for the simple pleasures of family life. Awe, shucks! Made in Glasgow -- a student company from within the RSAMD's own ranks -- offer an amiable production of a comedy which is remarkably sticky with sentiment.

At times it's as if one was being mugged in the mind with melted molasses. David Tennant brings a nice naivety to the learned Leon, Emma Fielding makes very nice work of Sophia's pretty little instances of intellectual clutziness. The whole cast, despite wrestling with cod Russian accents, act with an engaging freshness but really the whole thing is too soggy, too wide-eyed, too contrivedly cute to be more than a satisfying sketch drawn out beyond its merits.

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