EDINBURGH FESTIVAL '98: Comedy: Lost in a dark town

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The Independent Culture
DAVID HARROWER'S first play, Knives in Hens, premiered in 1995, told the story of a young woman living in a pre-industrial rural community whose descriptive powers and mental horizons were widened by an intense and socially unacceptable relationship with the village miller.

It was so beautifully written and structured that it instantly established the young Glaswegian as a major talent. Kill the Old Torture Their Young, a title that apparently came to Harrower while driving on the M8 between Edinburgh and Glasgow, shows a similarly impressive facility for sparse, understated dialogue, but it lacks the cohesion and emotional texture that made his debut so gripping.

Although in terms of setting - a present-day Scottish city rather like Edinburgh - it couldn't be more different, the new play suggests a continued interest in questions of perception and description. Robert is a documentary- maker returning home after 10 years, having been commissioned by a TV company to train his lens on his native terrain. But he no longer recognises the streets of his youth - almost all the faces he knew have vanished.

There's the young would-be actor, Darren, who becomes increasingly desperate at the menial jobs he keeps landing. The jetsetting cokehead Rock Singer is so disorientated that his idea of getting directions is to ask first which street he's in, then which city.

The pattern of people looking for points of connection and finding none produces a similar frustrating experience for the audience. We never delve into any of these lives. The documentary is an intangible, abstract commodity - like the city, there's precious little evidence of work in progress.

What takes place on stage is equally evanescent. You wait for ages to get hooked in, until at last it dawns on you that any real meaning is in the pipeline, too. Why it's called what it's called is anyone's guess.

Continues until 5 September (0131 228 1404). A version of this review appeared in yesterday's paper

Dominic Cavendish