PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 February, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 February, 1999, 12:00am

Tongue-tied Not So Loud Theatre Company Fringe Club January 29-31 It is a nice metaphor for diplomacy. In Rob McBride's new two-handed comedy for the City Festival, Sino-British disagreements are mirrored by a failing romance between two interpreters.

The fragilities and fantasies of international diplomacy are reduced to the misunderstandings between a Chinese woman who dreams of a better life, and an Englishman who also dreams of a better life.

The piece was well handled by Bernard Murphy as Richard and Colette Koo as Ling who both swung believably and comically between propriety and impropriety.

'There is no one I'd rather conjugate with,' said one translator to the other, lewdly. 'Feels expensive . . . how much?' asks Ling, examining Richard's gift presented in a green Harrods bag.

However they seemed less certain - as the script itself seemed much less certain - when they were playing unlikely lover's games, and when the fantasy stopped being fun.

In terms of staging, this piece will be familiar to any audience members who have seen other Not So Loud productions during the eight years they have been making original plays.

Whether about de-mining operations in Cambodia, the Rugby Sevens in Hong Kong, or trade missions in Beijing, there always seems to be a sense of involvement of the audience space.

The actors are always looking out of the stage space, and describing some action apparently happening in our midst, whether a try, a riot, or a televised walk along the Great Wall.

The first act of Tongue-tied was an often funny and frequently convincing mockery of 'package tour diplomacy', with stupid ministers on freebie trips making Essex (translated ludicrously as Henan) girl jokes - or arguing for hours about intellectual property rights to Supermario.

But the second half - set in London among beefeater jokes - seemed quickly to lose direction.

I never quite understood all the share-dealing complexities, or the espionage surrounding a portable computer tapped into a Beijing conference room moving secret funds from Switzerland to the London stock market.

And I certainly never understood why, dramatically, practically or even metaphorically, Richard's story of a perfect suburban life with boat, wife and children turns out to be a total fabrication.