EATING OUT: Poussin in Peacocks palace

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The Independent Culture

The Peacock Arts and Entertainment Centre, Woking, Surrey GU21 1GQ. Tel: 01483 776636. Dinner from 5.30pm when a play is running; set menu: two courses pounds 12.50, three courses pounds 14.95. Average a la carte, pounds 15. All credit cards but Diners

AS WE go to press I am, all being well, about to open for a week in my other capacity as a professional actor at the Theatre Royal in Bath, a place, despite the vandalism of developers in the Sixties and Seventies, still full of charming echoes of the past. Woking, an earlier stop on our tour, is equally full of rather more alarming intimations of the future.

The New Victoria Theatre there has a magnificently appointed auditorium of 1,200 seats, upholstered in powder blue. It forms part of a planner's dream - the Peacocks Centre - a three-tier palace of a shopping mall, cinema and smaller theatre with discreetly hidden car parks in the sky. Its levels are connected by gleaming glass lifts and silent white escalators, and Disney-style cleaners pad about flicking rare cigarette ends into long-handled dustpans. Druggies, dogs, beggars and those selling second- hand books are excluded, confined to a pedestrianised reservation outside, centred on the church.

Watching the placid shoppers gliding up and down, I wondered whether perhaps guides in a hundred years' time will be showing tourists round the ruins, trying to explain late 20th- century Fundamentalist Consumerism.

Sitting in Overtures, the small restaurant at the theatre end of the Peacocks, and leafing through a copy of What's On In Woking, I realised that in any case we in the theatre are now part of it. Our production of Make Way for Lucia! was to be found somewhere between Tumble Tots, Fun and Fitness for 60-plus, The Masriat Egyptian Dance Company's "undulating torsos and percussive hips", Gigi - "with a cast list that includes such greats as Louis Jourdan and Hermione Gielgud" - and ads for more successful long-running shows such as Marks & Spencer's, Woolworth's and Wok 'n Roll, the Chinese takeaway on Level One.

Overtures seems to have been rather squeezed in on one side of a wide spiral staircase that leads up from the street to the Circle. Its related cocktail bar, Oscars, where young Woking sophisticates pat epigrams to and fro over a dry Martini, is at the other end of a long padded tunnel, forming a bridge with the shopping mall proper, but Overtures shelters behind a black enamelled half-wall, following the curve of the stairs. The decor is theatrical, with a blown-up picture of Kenneth Branagh. He appears at first sight to be about to take a bite out of a disgustingly large chocolate: it is in fact a very small skull, probably a monkey's, and he is being Hamlet.

My guest was an old friend and a member of the cast, Antonia Pemberton. We spent the first few moments sitting on a robustly upholstered sofa on the left of the little entrance gate having a chuckle over Overtures' logo: an enlarged "O" with wisps of thread blowing out of it - which, being actors, we decided must represent the peacock's bottom - and then we got down to studying the menu.

Other diners close by, perhaps retired after successfully stockbroking in Woking, were having a bit of a discussion about how many courses they were allowed on their inclusive dinner and theatre ticket, but we felt we needed building-up after a vigorous matinee and had three.

Aware that our performance in the evening would have to compete with percussive hips and Wok 'n Roll, we limited ourselves to a glass of wine each, sharing a half-bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape at pounds 9. The rest of the wine list is very reasonably priced, with nothing over pounds 22 a bottle.

We were then "taken down'', as the friendly waitress put it, to our black enamelled table a few feet away, and our half-bottle arrived, complete with a saucer and a paper napkin, perhaps to protect the black enamel.

Antonia started with lamb sweetbreads salad with a raspberry dressing, and I had tomato and basil soup. Her bits of lamb were fine, but we decided the salad was overdrenched in raspberry vinegar; my soup was quite nourishing, but tasted as though it came straight out of a tin and was sprinkled with something out of a packet.

For our main course she had haddock fillet served with large prawns sauteed in garlic butter, and I had whole poussin served with tomato, peppers and garlic sauce. Both, we thought, were very good, although the mange- tout, broccoli and carrots that came with them were undercooked. This was odd because the night before when I ate there alone they were overcooked. Whether they were fresh from the market that morning I doubt.

For pudding, I had a creme caramel and Antonia had pear puffs. Again, mine could have come straight off the shelf at Marks & Spencer's - this is not to criticise Marks & Spencer's, whose entire sandwich selection I have eaten my way through in the last eight weeks, coming to the conclusion that the hummus and carrot/chargrilled vegetables/salad three-pack is the winner by far - and Antonia didn't like the pastry.

Despite it all, Overtures has my grudging respect; trying to run a restaurant - depending as any restaurant does on experienced and inspired cooks, atmosphere, thearicality and professional staff - requires colossal flair. Trying to run one in such a clinically designed planning experiment as the Peacocks Centre cannot be easy, and Overtures is definitely heading in the right direction.

We finished with coffee and mints, and asked for the bill. It came with a printed questionnaire asking us our place of origin, age-group and purpose in visiting the Peacocks Arts and Entertainments Centre, and seeking our judgement on the box office, ushers and attendants, cleanliness of the toilets and directional signage, from "v. good" to "poor".

Heaving a sigh of relief that our performances were not listed there for public criticism, we beetled backstage to climb into our costumes. The whole experience cost us pounds 46.50, including a pounds 6.50 tip.