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The Independent Culture

The Play

Life Support

Once again, Alan Bates takes the leading role in a new play by Simon Gray. This time he stars as a fraudulent travel writer stung into grief as he attends the bedside of his wife (Georgina Hale) who lies in a coma. Harold Pinter, an old hand when it comes to directing Gray, is back in charge with Carole Nimmons, Nickolas Grace and Frank McCusker in supporting roles.

Paul Taylor found it "moving, astute, often funny. [Alan Bates] does the author especially proud ... He superbly suggests a man struggling to master overwhelming grief". "One of Gray's finest, strongest exercises in sardonic tragedy, black comedy, categorise it how you will," averred The Times. "Grips throughout ... When Bates suddenly surges with anger, or succumbs to a devastating sense of loss, the dramatic effect is explosive," gasped the Telegraph. "Quietly moving if lacking in theatrical dynamism ... perversely, one sometimes sighs for a touch of the old talent to abuse," admitted The Guardian. "A tremendously moving, bed-bound performance by Georgina Hale ... a civilised rather than a memorable evening," decided the Mail.

At the Aldwych Theatre, London WC2 (0171-416 6003) to 18 Oct.

Don't be put off by the seemingly bleak scenario. A fine production. the film Bean Rowan Atkinson breaks silence by adding his voice to a big-screen re-creation of his stupefyingly popular TV persona of the bumbling incompetent, serenely unaware of the chaos he creates around him. Older readers will recognise him as a graduate of the Harry Worth / Norman Wisdom school. Written by Richard (Four Weddings) Curtis and Robin Driscoll and directed by Mel Smith.

Ryan Gilbey likened it to "Mr Magoo with added malice and mucus ... If the film has anything in its favour, it's brevity". "Bean is not an acquired taste, you either have it or not. You might, though, in a moment of doubt, or panic, try to unacquire it. For instance, after seeing this movie," warned the FT. "The kind of shallow movie that only works if you shut your mind to the qualities of all great comedies: rigour, intelligence, imagination and humanity," thundered The Times. "Highlights include pants wetting, eruptions of nasal snot and a bag of vomit burst playfully over someone's head," shuddered The Standard. "These gags are not so much cheap as bargain basement," scorned the Telegraph.

Cert PG, 89 mins. On release absolutely everywhere.

See Grosse Pointe Blank instead. the ballet Romeo and Juliet On Monday, the Kirov Ballet returned to the Coliseum with Lavrovsky's Romeo and Juliet, added confirmation that they have triumphantly survived their post-Communist impoverishment. Altynai Asylmuratova danced a yearningly fateful Juliet, with Viktor Baranov as her Romeo. It was the Queen Mum's 97th birthday; Mercutio's testosterone-drenched performance was an ideal gift.

Louise Levene enthused about the production: "A stag-line of enormously promising young men ... Almost operatic staging gives the street scenes a verismo and vitality enhanced by the full-blooded dancing and zestful mime of the chorus," and she doted on Juliet's "exotic, tip-tilted beauty". "The Kirov's Koh-i-noor diamond has been their prima ballerina Altynai Asylmuratova... Has any dancer ever been so completely gifted?" gasped the Telegraph. "Looks odd," mused the FT, which still had to concur, "At its heart was Altynai Asylmuratova's Juliet, and she justified every moment. None of the other playing came near her."

The Kirov end their UK visit with a second Fokine programme at the Coliseum, London WC2 (0171-632 8300) today at 2pm and 7.30pm.

Highly recommended: lustful, erotic, passionate, delicately sensual and beautifully danced. Sorry you missed Romeo and Juliet, but see Fokine if you can.