Haywire - Altrincham Little Theatre

HARRASSED bookshop owner Alec (Chris Burton) is living proof that you can, if proof were needed, wear cardigans and still be a sexual being.

He's also living proof that you should never judge a book by its cover - no pun intended. For the sly old dog is plotting a few days in the sun with his mistress.

But will his family scupper his plans? The first complication arrives in the shape of his elderly mother, who has absconded from the nursing home se lived in. My contact at ALT told me Janet Reidsma was never going to take to the stage again. Why? As Phoebe, Alec's mum, she delivers a superbly pitched piece of character acting and there are some memorable spats between her and Burton, a comedy natural, to enjoy.

This is, unfortunately, one of those occasions when the cast is actually better than the play. Some of the jokes in the firsttwo acts are as flat as a bowl of yesterday's punch. But the piece, from the pen of Eric "Rising Damp" Chappell, creator of one of the best ever British sitcoms, becomes far funnier and pacier after the interval.

Under the very capable direction of Garth Jones, Alec, Phoebe, Jamie and Mandy look a sound like a real family and there's a real authenticity to their sniping and bickering. Equally convincing is Lisa Barker as "the other woman" Liz.

There are elements of farce here. But without the usual frantic breathlessness you'd usually associate with the genre. While Haywire isn't classic comedy it is good fun and there are flashes of the comic brilliance that were a hallmark of Chppell's greatest work, that timeless sitcom Rising Damp.

* Until October 7. The box office is on 0161 928 1113. Star rating - ***