Arts: Driven to destruction

Theatre: THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE/SUMMIT CONFERENCE CITIZENS' THEATRE, GLASGOW

THE CITIZENS' final two (non-seasonal) productions of 1998 are linked by themes of coercion and complicity, both investigating the tendency of oppressed individuals or groups to act oppressively in their turn. Each highlights the wilfully blinkered vision or outright sophistry necessary to perpetuate such utterly destructive symbioses.

The contexts in which these concerns are played out, however, could hardly be more different. Frank Marcus's 1965 drama - best remembered via the film version, starring Beryl Reid - posits the imminent axeing of the long-running soap character played by a middle-aged lesbian actress, while Robert David MacDonald's three-hander, originally written for the Citz 20 years ago, stages an imagined meeting between Hitler's and Mussolini's mistresses.

However, Eva Braun andCarla Petacci are not so far removed from Sister George (as the actress is generally known off screen as well as on). She responds to her imminent televisual demise by lashing out at those around her, especially her younger lover Childie. As she seeks solace or takes retreat playing the dominatrix to Childie's girlish victim, the chain- of-repression scenario is obvious enough - rather too pat to shed much real light on the issue, besides being rooted in some rather dated stereotypes of lesbian behaviour.

A more interesting angle of approach, especially in our own era of docusoaps and human-zoo talk shows, would be George's continual blurring of her own and her character's personality. But while director and designer Kenny Miller attempts to point up this dimension, editing out the original period references and putting Jerry Springer on George's TV at the start, again Marcus himself fails to delve sufficiently into the psychological dynamics he sets out.

The four-strong cast, especially Anne Myatt as George and Ellen Sheean as her increasingly sinister producer, bring as much complexity as they can to their parts, together with a good deal of humour, but ultimately the play defies their efforts.

The two lead characters in Summit Conference certainly don't lack in complexity, speaking not only in their own voices, but periodically in the guise of their respective lovers, parties and countries. MacDonald's characteristically rigorous dramatic disquisition explores all manner of power-plays - personal and political, sexual and military - together with the mental and emotional contortions that are required to either justify or deny injustice.

Exploiters and exploited both, the two women come across as far more than mouthpieces for MacDonald's moral philosophising, thanks equally to the honed suppleness of his language and to laser-sharp performances from Anthea Hart and Kathy Kiera Clarke, pitting icy elegance against kittenish shrewdness as, respectively, Braun and Petacci.

Until 23 December; box office: 0141-429 0022.

Sue Wilson

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