David Benedict on theatre

Click to follow
"It's so relevant for today": the phrase that launched a thousand press releases. From Shakespeare to Shaw, thousands of plays have been sold by PR-types pointing out in breathy, awestruck tones how thrillingly pertinent, say, The Merchant of Venice is "to our times/in this era of violence". "How marvellous," they gush, implying bemusement at the mere notion that someone as dead and dull as Shakespeare could possibly address our sophisticated tastes.

The downside of this nonsense is that it treats you as if you were 13- years-old. Great plays don't need this kind of spurious affidavit. Either they work dramatically or they don't, in which case don't do 'em. Of course, certain works do date. It's hard to find a decent excuse for staging The Taming of the Shrew these days. Ever since Michael Bogdanov's celebrated RSC production with Jonathan Pryce and Paola Dionisotti, directors have resorted to last-minute heavy irony for Katherine's capitulation to wifely subservience, but it doesn't wash.

Certain plays have relevance thrust upon them. Reginald Rose's TV play and subsequent film, Twelve Angry Men, the sine qua non of courtroom dramas, looks an even hotter property thanks to the shenanigans of OJ's jurors. Judge for yourself in the stage revival directed by the current writer of choice, Harold Pinter, which stars Tony Haygarth, who played opposite him in The Hothouse. Haygarth has also just won the Clarence Derwent award for his outstanding performance in Simpatico.

The prize for seeming relevance, however, goes to the Nuffield Theatre, that months ago programmed the world premiere of the comedy The Price of Meat. I trust an invitation has been sent to Douglas Hogg. He may be MP for Grantham, but Southampton isn't too far from the House of Commons.

'Twelve Angry Men' is at the Comedy Theatre London (0171-369 1731). 'The Price of Meat' is at the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton (01703 671771)