A breathless, brilliant, risk-taking show

By Bill Taylor
Toronto Star Feature Writer

Don't, as Canada's purblind ``national newspaper'' has this week, call him a drag queen.

Eddie Izzard is simply the funniest bilingual transvestite (a very different thing) on this or any other planet. All of which becomes relevant - sort of - in Izzard's one-man show, Circle, which continues tonight and tomorrow at the Bathurst Street Theatre, a converted church.

Do the owners, he wonders, use a special spray to keep the ambience? ``It smells of Methodists.''

The remark comes out of nowhere, as does much of his performance. The man simply, blessedly, cannot resist a tangent.

Rather than a dress, he's wearing a black top and pants and high-heeled boots. With his short beard and spiky, blond-highlighted hair, he could pass for Kenneth Branagh.

Coincidentally, he launches into an impromptu (``That's not how I'm supposed to start'') Shakespeare schtick, doing bits of Henry V in a Birmingham accent - ``not that poncy crap,'' says the Bard - and ruminating on whether a saint called Crispin could really inspire an army.

``I haven't ready Henry V,'' Izzard confesses. ``I've just watched the film.''

But as his scattergun erudition reveals, he has clearly read something. His surreal Circle includes the likes of Aristotle, Socrates (``don't talk to him, he asks questions about everything''), King Ethelred the Unready (caught putting on his shoes), the Hindu god Shiva and the Christian God . . . appalled when He hears about the Last Supper. Cheese, He feels, would have gone better with wine than bread.

What, Izzard ponders, would virginity look like if you built it with Meccano? Why do gazelles not go through puberty, but instead play the banjo?

He offers a bleak - and, one feels, heartfelt - view of Margaret Thatcher. He regrets his country's suspicion of the European Community.

``Britain should be in the driving seat of Europe. Or the passenger seat. That's pretty good. You can play with the radio and rummage in the glove compartment.''

His encore is all the funnier for its being delivered largely in French. (Izzard is seriously proud of his efforts to introduce standup comedy to France.)

It's a breathless, brilliant, risk-taking two hours. Sometimes Izzard will lose his thread and, not giving a damn, ask happily, ``Where am I going with this?''

Doesn't matter. It's a helluva ride and there's no better place to be than in the passenger seat. You get to rummage in the glove compartment.