OFF WEST END / Hanging by a thread

It isn't easy to write about Shiny Nylon, a new production from the Women's Playhouse Trust. To see it, you have to travel to a remote corner of east London, beyond the Isle of Dogs, where you sit in a freezing cold Victorian shed wondering what on earth is going on while a woman in a velvet dress stalks up and down waving a large nickel-plated automatic pistol and shouting 'Tell me what you feel, you dumb fuck,' over and over. This is, you feel, not a good starting-point for a review. On the other hand, maybe it's all the review Shiny Nylon needs.

There are resonant moments - a great sweep of red curtain advances slowly towards the audience from the other end of the huge building, while our heroine, Jennifer Potter, strolls purposefully along in front - but too often Deborah Levy's fragmented text, full of allusions to Marilyn, Elvis and The Wizard of Oz, sinks into banality and / or incomprehensibility. The theme is seems to be the alienation of urban youth; but it doesn't so much explore it as inflict it.

Urban youth also get fairly alienated in Thomas Kett's comedy Acid Hearts, at the Finborough, though here there's at least a whiff of idealism, some sense that redemption is possible. Thuggish Trevor goes out to work while his weak-minded brother Frankie festers in their tiny, squalid flat; in the evening Trevor bores him with involved, boasting yarns about unlikely sexual adventures. This cosy set-up is disrupted by Ellen, an assertive, upwardly mobile young secretary who lives across the hall. She befriends Frankie, and boosts his confidence; and when Ellen buys her own place she takes him along.

Kett doesn't show a light touch with irony (when, in the opening scene, Trevor talks about how much Frankie needs him, you can already guess at the role reversal ahead), and the plot strains credibility. But the gradual revelation of the layers of dysfunction in the brothers' relationship is well handled, and Richard Georgeson's production manages some impressive transformations - the set shifts ingeniously from horrible Deptford to light and airy Finchley, Kieron Forsyth's Frankie moves plausibly from limp- haired, boneless geek into presentable young entrepreneur. Also, it made me laugh quite a lot.

The same can't be said of Waiting for Godot, at the Lyric Studio, despite Nadim Sawalha and Kevork Malikyan's Laurel-and-Hardy Vladimir and Estragon. They both ooze charm; but they're also too ingratiating for pathos, and at times oddly uncomfortable with their lines. Anthony Lamble's set, placing the action in a Levantine desert, is pleasingly spare. Unfortunately, Lisa Dorrell's direction is annoyingly cluttered so that it seems a much longer play than it used to be.

'Shiny Nylon', to Saturday, S- Shed, Royal Victoria Docks, E14 (071-379 9700). 'Acid Hearts', to 12 March, The Finborough, SW1 (071- 373 3842). 'Waiting for Godot', to 5 March, Lyric Studio, Hammersmith W6 (081-741 8701).

(Photograph omitted)

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