Arts: On The Fringe

Treatment/ Wolfboy The Finborough: Lost in a Flurry of Cherry Blossoms; BAC Blavatsky, Young Vic Studio
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The Independent Culture
SLASHING SOMEONE'S face to ribbons is not the healthiest form of self-expression, but Treatment shows that for some people there is little option. It takes a teenager who could have stepped straight out of recent poverty reports on Blair's Britain, and curses him with a genius that expresses itself not in words or equations, but in a flick of the knife and blood running in the gutter. Enter two liberals: a Cambridge girlfriend who likes to get theoretical over Liam's raw energy and his body, and an understanding clergyman who's wetter than a waterfall. Their attempts to redirect Liam's life are examined in this explosive drama, which rocks the tiny Finborough theatre with its violence and energy.

The director, Jacob Murray, is fascinated by the visionary potential of intense aggression - a fascination that was partially demonstrated in his beautiful, lyrical direction of Happenstance. Treatment is a difficult play - especially when it juxtaposes the clergyman's inadequate, Palestrina- style piety with Liam's attempts to escape his background - but Murray has overcome many potential flaws with a strong cast that makes you believe in the characters, even if the liberals seem blinkered by worthiness.

Merryn Owen as Liam and Stephen Hudson as his brother Rory fill the space with an aggressive, football-inspired tribalism, allowing the audience to feel the fear of being close to someone who says it with knives. Their angry partnership is also celebrated in Brad Fraser's new play Wolfboy, set in a boys' psychiatric home in Canada. Hudson plays a boy suffering from lycanthropy (ie he thinks he's a wolf). He invests his role with a dignity and charisma that are well complemented by Owen's vulnerable and confused character, drawn towards his vulpine "powers".

Violence also flared up in the Tokyo Theatre Ensemble's Lost in a Flurry of Cherry Blossoms, but here it was distilled into the ritualised, artificial beauty of traditional Japanese theatre. The director, Tsunetoshi Hirowatari, created a stunning backdrop to this mythical tale, sprinkling what seems like several tons of cherry blossom on to the stage and blasting it back into the air with hand-held wind machines so that it looked like a gushing, pale-pink fountain.

This was theatre as ornament - an enchanting yet disturbing orgy of bloodshed portrayed in scenes that could be described, but never dismissed, as "pretty". "Never judge a present by its wrapping paper" might be the underlying philosophy of much traditional Japanese literature, and Kisetsu Mano's embodiment of the demonic woman who enslaves a bandit with her beauty certainly encapsulates this, as she conceals her evil beneath embroidered coats.

The movement is intensely focused, and the power relationship is strongly marked out between the bandit and the demon. Artificiality provides a strong emotional medium, and the play's highlight is a scene where he kills all his wives, and coloured streamers shoot from their bodies to represent blood.

It's the kind of trick that HP Blavatsky might have enjoyed - a woman who, as most HP sources will tell you - was a founder of the Theosophical Society. Clare Bayley's play Blavatsky examines how a woman who made Queen Victoria look like Marilyn Monroe spun a reputation for showy mysticism that eventually dissolved into allegations of fraud. Andy Lavender's production pulls off some interesting mind-reading illusions, and uses film and computer screens to great effect. Nicely ambiguous, if slightly stodgy.

Rachel Halliburton

`Treatment/Wolfboy', 0171-373 3842, to 9 Oct; `Blavatsky', 0171-928 6363, to 2 Oct

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