centrepiece; Breathing lessons

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How to Win Playwrighting Awards:

1. Take a meaty issue (mix the personal and the political - very chic).

2. Place in a smart postmodern wrapping (a double time-structure of past and present is most attractive).

3. Write elliptically for a small cast (no one can afford anything large- scale).

4. At all costs, don't make the judges laugh (this is a serious business).

5. Whatever you do, forget farce.

Writing Dumbstruck David Kane cheerfully disobeyed all these rules, reduced audiences to hysterical wrecks and still wound up bagging reviews you couldn't pay for and winning The Writers' Guild Best Regional Play, an LWT Plays on Stage award, and the Scotland on Sunday Paper Boat Award. (True.) The play, the major hit of last year's Mayfest, went on to even greater success on a Scottish tour earlier this year, before arriving for a limited season in Hammersmith.

Elaine C Smith, best known as the put-upon Mary from Rab C Nesbitt, plays Mrs Husk, whose seedy Sixties theatrical boarding house is dangerously overstocked with hopelessly stagestruck variety performers all of whom, in true farce fashion, have a secret they cannot possibly reveal. Everything is fine until the appearance of Herman Katz (Forbes Masson, right, with Jimmy Chisholm, far right), a German-Scots illusionist with a sideline in mercy killing.

Whether it's Noises Off or Fawlty Towers, great farce boils down to one basic ingredient: logic. As long as the characters - and hence the audience - believe absolutely in what they are saying or doing, the scenario can spiral into complete, delirious absurdity. Euthanasia enthusiasm has seldom been used as the basis for a play, let alone a fiendishly-plotted farce complete with live songs, spectacular one-liners, multiple murders and synchronised door-slamming.

This autumn, its director, Michael Boyd, (whose RSC production of The Broken Heart is shortly to transfer from Stratford to London), will stage Janice Galloway's magnificent first novel The Trick is to Keep Breathing. That's a good piece of advice for actors in general, and for farce, where ruthless technique and split-second timing have to masquerade as mayhem, it's crucial. For the inspired lunacy of Dumbstruck, it's completely essential.

David Benedict

'Dumbstruck' is at the Lyric Hammersmith from 16 May (0181-741 2311)

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