NEW STAGES: REVIEWS The Counting of Years Young Vic Studio, London

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The Counting of Years

Young Vic Studio, London

Pete Brooks' and Ruth Ben-Tovim's latest work is a confident, mature piece of theatre, a welcome reminder that non-linear drama can be as tautly accessible, as charged with suspense and humour as the conventional narrative play. Alice Purcell's superb multi-level set gives us an X-ray view of a hotel interior. Here sits Harry the night porter, fielding guests' demands and anonymous phonecalls and swallowing the odd vodka in an attempt to get a grip on the spiralling sex and violence within the hotel and the war-torn wasteland beyond it. One guest in particular obsesses him - a woman with red hair - who offers an ironic commentary on the major events of the 20th century. She invites him to bed, then later commits suicide. The work's major themes - the conflict arising from man's dogged need to extract meaning from a chaotic universe and the primacy of fiction over fact - emerge in their conversations.

Though the themes are not in themselves particularly original, the dramatic structure of the piece lends them energy and resonance. Scenes are deconstructed, replayed and telescoped reflecting the unreliability of fact and our penchant for re-ordering. This device yields a wealth of humour and dramatic tension - it's far from being a dry aesthetic exercise. Neil Starr's soundtrack and Nigel Edwards's lighting are compelling and Nick Sutton as the long- suffering Harry stands out in a strong, committed ensemble.

Ellen Cranitch