Ban This Filth (C4)

The Paul O'Grady Show (ITV1)

NEVER mind hunting, there are other country pursuits that the Prime Minister should be banning, according to Barbara, the elderly woman who presents Ban This Filth.

She was referring to Pony Play, which involves a dirty old man riding around on the back of a half-naked woman. She's a fan of Black Beauty, she admitted, but riding pony girls was disgusting. The place where it takes place, East Anglia, was officially named as the filthiest in the country.

Of course, Barbara and her pensioner pals Jill and Brenda had to show us clips from Pony Play in order to condemn it. How thoughtful.

The same applied to warnings about forthcoming filthy fodder on TV - not only were we shown generous excerpts in dirty detail but given full details of where and when they were being shown, so we could avoid watching them.

Jill was sent abroad to report on a show, Germany Swings, that investigates swinging couples at the Beverly Club which was, she assured us, "nothing to do with the Beverly Sisters".

As she watched the flesh-baring couples swinging, she inquired of an organiser: "Is it like Egon Ronay, do you award stars?".

The trio of filth-finders also launched their Dogging Campaign, designed to stamp out the activities of those who watch strangers having sex in vehicles in car parks.

Lily Savage has a foul mouth on her but she's been locked away while her alter ego, Paul O'Grady, tries to pep up ITV1's teatime ratings with a daily chat show. The first edition beat C4 rivals Richard and Judy in the ratings, so the omens are good.

O'Grady could talk for Britain so you sometimes wonder if his guests will ever get a word in. The good thing is that he clearly enjoys what he's doing and, more importantly, isn't trying to do too much. Just two guests and a couple of novelty performers each programme.

Unlike Richard and Judy, he doesn't try to tackle serious topics or promote books. He just wants a good gossip. He's not averse taking the mickey out of his guests. "You've got an evil gob," he told Simon Cowell, but in a nice way.

The set - a desk and sofa affair - is pretty disgusting. "I've woke up in skips and seen better furniture," said O'Grady. He complained about being given a cup and saucer instead of a mug. "I wish they'd get rid of this mug, it makes me look gay," he said.

And again when rendered speechless after the autocue was slow in rolling, he moaned: "You have to be psychic on this show."

But you don't have to be psychic to know that he's going to give Richard and Judy a good run for their money.

Very Little Women, York Theatre Royal

ACTORS are warned never to act with children or animals. To that list must be added stuffed animals. These creatures - a selection of inanimate beasts including cats and kittens - threaten to steal scene after scene of Lip Service's version of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel.

A big fluffy kitten even adorns the programme for this irreverent treatment of the story of four sisters left at home while their father's away in the American Civil War.

It's doubtful if Alcott would recognise her novel now it's been given the same Lip Service treatment that the dynamic duo of Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding have given in the past to the Brontes in Withering Looks, King Arthur And The Knights Of The Occasional Table and the Greek tragedy known as Hector's House.

A sense of the ridiculous is all you need to enjoy the pair, whose humour is at best inspired and at worst plain silly. No entendre is left undoubled and no possible pun left unpunned.

Matthew Vaughan joins them in a cast which also includes those aforementioned animals, cardboard cut-outs, dolls and dummies. Fox and Ryding do the lion's share of the work, playing more parts than you'd think humanly possible.

Inevitably, given that they attempt a laugh a line, some bits prove funnier than others. But overall, it's a case of Very Little Women but Very Big Laughs.

l Runs until Saturday. Box office (01904) 623568

Steve Pratt

Cosi Fan Tutte, Opera North, Newcastle Theatre Royal

MOZART'S story of cynical betting on human frailty is impeccably performed by a strong young cast with the support of Opera North's excellent orchestra.

Two young soldiers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, are shocked when their older friend Don Alfonso suggests that the two sisters they hope to marry are incapable of being faithful. Confidently, they accept a wager that Don Alfonso can prove his point, and embark on a plan to test the girls' fidelity.

The sisters, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, are a pair of innocents and Don Alfonso enlists the aid of their saucy ladies' maid, Despina, to help lead them astray.

This new production, sung in English, features an updated libretto which contains lots of little jokes and light-hearted asides. All credit to the young lady who undertook signing the whole performance for the hearing impaired, a monumental task carried out with humour and a feeling for the music.

Opera North goes from strength to strength, and this company is amazingly good; if I had to pick one person from the talented cast it would be Claire Wild, bringing Despina to life with a light comic touch.

I found the performance a trifle long at three-and-a-quarter hours, but it's worth a numb derriere for Mozart and Opera North!

* Cosi Fan Tutte runs again tonight; on Friday it's Manon Lescaut, with Orfeo ed Euridice on Saturday. Box office: 0870 905 5060

Sue Heath