THE Oxford Stage Company's Love is a Drug, directed by Antonia Fava, gave Hong Kong audiences a wonderful opportunity to experience a rarely seen theatrical form Comedia Del Arte. Comedia is a form of popular masked slapstick comedy, not unlike farce, which evolved in Northern Italy some 400 years ago. It involves actors improvising around set plots using stock characters such as Harlequin. So Renaissance Europe loved it - what about late-20th century Hong Kong? Well they seemed to like it very much for the first hour but began to wilt a bit as it went on. For a society used to five-hour Chinese operas the 21/2-hours worth of Love is a Drug may seem fleeting. But towards the end of the show it was the children who were still spluttering into laughter while the adults were breaking into the occasional smile. This over-long performance could have been the result of an actor-centred company which allows each of its actors equal time on stage. But even though every one of them deserved equal recognition, this actor-friendly policy did not work in the best interests of the audience. Had Love is a Drug lasted 80 minutes we would have come out . . . knocked out. But that's where the criticism ends. The actors were all superb and the text, their text as they created it through a series of improvised rehearsals, was vulgar, vigorous and villainous. The courtship scene between Kate Fleetwood as Flaminia and William Lawrence as Ortatio had the audience in convulsions - the text's mischievous excess of classico-mythologising combined with the actors' hilarious romantic posturing to give us a glorious send up of the courtly concept of wooing. The scene between William Lawrence (Ortatio) and Jonathan Coyne as Flavio, in which their attempts at out-grieving each other spilt into violence, was a triumph of timing and gesture, Lisa Turner's monologue as Isabella had a lady sitting near me carried off by the Red Cross and she was still laughing apparently when she reached Queen Mary Hospital.