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REVIEWS DV8 Physical Theatre Taking Risks! Festival Oxford Playhouse
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The Independent Culture
In both Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men, created in 1988, and his last work, MSM, Lloyd Newson reveals enough about men's inner conflicts, repressed feelings and the fragility of their outer casing to last a theatre-going lifetime. But now, with the company's new show Enter Achilles, featuring eight men, he has created a tragi-comedy in which the swearing, brawling, pint-swilling males found any night in pubs and clubs across the land simultaneously entertain and horrify you. The interplay between humour and violence is so accomplished that you find yourself laughing at misogynistic jokes and gestures, and straining to see who comes off worst in the many fracas. But the sense of uneasy enjoyment is also affected by terrifyingly instantaneous shifts from good-natured karaoke-infected, boozy partying to stomach-churning moments of frenzied physical barbarity.

Similarly, the macho brutes of Newson's international line-up inspire both affection and revulsion throughout the evening - although all are irrevocably tainted by the ugliness of the final group scene. Any mention of women is predictably lewd - the talk peppered with words like "tits" and "shagging". And while sexual energy - much of it latently homosexual and often homophobic - pervades the work, females are merely, and literally, blow-up dolls to be abused and thrown away.

But it's not all crude stereotyping. In the shabby, nicotine-stained pub lounge, men clutching half-consumed pints interlock in dances that seem designed to test their dexterity and cunning, the object being to escape without spilling too much beer. The motor rhythm and attitude of male bodies is also beautifully encapsulated in a simple, ritual dance, culminating in beery baptisms. There's much individual vying for the limelight - men shoving one another out of the way and announcing their presence with increasingly vulgar combinations of language and gesture. Liam ("that's mail spelt backwards") is the diminutive twerp and joker of the piece - not that he's any less inclined to throw himself head-first into the many fights over nothing (but male pride?). Yet unlike his companions, Liam undergoes a temporary transformation at the hands of Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola, the accordion-playing, rope-climbing superman who, in the work's most rhapsodically magical episode, liberates him from the notions of properly masculine behaviour which until now have imprisoned his better spirit.

Riding along on a collage of half-played juke-box standards, Enter Achilles gives free rein to the warrior instinct. But it also pokes fun at its characters' masculinity. That it ultimately fails to go beyond the often obscene horror of their acts is the show's biggest flaw. But given performers of the calibre of Liam Steel, Jordi Cortes-Molina and de Garaio Esnaola (to mention just three of a notably excellent team), Enter Achilles carries enough subtleties to make you leave the theatre re-assessing every man you know.

n The Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 13-14 October (0131-529 6000); West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, 18-21 October (0113-244 2111); Royal Festival Hall, London SE1, 26-30 October (0171-960 4242)

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