In your face

'Language Roulette' offers Belfast a barrage of quickfire wordplay.
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The Independent Culture
Whatever you may think about Trainspotting, or even Kids, down in the local multiplex, it seems that a gritty, current naturalismus is the logical extension of the growing muscularity of the younger native Belfast companies, and in particular the challenges that Mad Cow and Tinderbox, both operating out of the Old Museum arts centre, are flinging at each other. The latter troupe, picking up on a script by 26-year-old Armagh- born Daragh Carville, enact their own biographies in Language Roulette, a reunion of young 20-something alumni from Queen'saround a cautionary tableful of alcohol and a couple of joints, topped off by coloured pills that either send the unsuspecting characters into a kind of blasphemous Benzedrine mania, or face-forward into their own vomit.

The play takes its title from a game played by Belfastmen abroad - cheerfully badmouthing someone in English, and hoping they don't understand - an undeveloped metaphor for the rounds of "Truth or Dare" games that structure the conversations, and lay bare the plot. Jo (Peter O'Meara), like the author, is a writer who lived abroad and has now returned to meet his old mates, to whom he owes an unspecified apology. Colm (Alan McKee) is now a teacher in a Catholic school, and thus, although estranged from his wife, Anna (a hard-bitten, upsetting Emma Jordan), will not grant her a divorce. Meanwhile, a furiously embittered Tim (Peter Ballance) is still around, fired up to stir the manure again as a violent, yet catalytic truth-teller. Two hapless bystanders provide comic foils to the increasing savagery of the evening: Thomas Lappin's Ollie, hilariously dangle-jawed as the gormless recreational drug enthusiast; aching mournfully after the crumple- zone scowls of Maria Connolly's equally funny air-headed drop-out, Sarah.

All the performances have a vivid, even frightening commitment, and as the temperature rises, and they make the occasional mouthful of a line, it's because they're actually getting pissed - unlike the honeyrose joints, the alcohol is all for real. The resultant sweat beads certainly add an adrenalising lather to the later cathartic show-downs; director Tim Loane has sculpted an extraordinary, ferocious ensemble.

The immediacy of the bam-bam wordplay produces a hugely enjoyable buzz- a-minute comic texture of young-minded ceasefire cynicism, bathed in a kind of jokey Lavery's vernacular of these children of the l970s (Hong Kong Fuey, Pacers, the late John Pertwee) and their drained illusions (how crap Morissey is now); peppered with the kind of crude, free-range slagging that makes anything fair game for a gross riposte, most of which send belly- laughs rippling back through the crowd.

It's not a terribly original, or even a well-made play, but it's a wired- up acknowledgement, without any moralising intrusions, of the sloppy hedonism - or nihilism and damage, depending on the way you look at it - of the dominant youth culture. It's extremely inconclusive, with many of the issues raised left hanging in their air, but it's a serious opening salvo that bodes well for a new Belfast writer - so long as he doesn't waste his youth trying to write it all down.

n To 8 June (01232 439313), then tours

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