OFF WEST END / The pleasures of island life

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The Independent Culture
It would be hard to think of a play better suited to celebrate the Tricycle's 10th birthday than Mustapha Matura's Playboy of the West Indies. Over the years the theatre has worked hard at programming work that reflects the mixed local audience in Kilburn, staging classics and new plays by Irish and Caribbean writers. Matura's play unites the two fronts, taking Synge's west of Ireland classic and relocating it to a small village in Trinidad in the Fifties.

It works beautifully, largely because Matura has chosen his text so well. The story is entirely credible in the new setting, so that he has no need to tinker with it or to demand incredible leaps of the imagination from his audience. He sticks to the plot faithfully, but the backwater rum-shop and rolling, sensuous Caribbean dialogue have a spirit of their own, so that, rather from detracting from Synge's original, his adaptation lends the story a new lease of life.

Nicholas Kent's enjoyable production matches the mood of the play, revelling in the sense of place, the sensuality of the text and the exuberant playfulness of the language. It goes over the top in places - the playboy's father, for instance, rather than being alarming, is a ham straight out of a melodrama, which means the play's dark undercurrent is somewhat muted. The two central performances are very strong, however: Cyril Nri making the journey from loser to liar before your eyes, and Cecilia Noble carrying the action as Peggy: tough, sharp, beautiful and trapped.

A bus ride up the road, in Cricklewood, a large scale community promenade production of John B Keane's The Bodhran Makers (Galtymore Dance Hall, run ended) offered another story from small-town Ireland. Keane's novel again reveals a community steeped in ancient beliefs, and focuses on a clash between church and locals over the Wren dance, a semi-pagan revel held on St Stephen's Day. It's a fertile subject, and the production was moved along by some excellent traditional music and step dancing, although it suffered a few of the drawbacks of large-scale promenade pieces. Some scenes lacked pace and a few performers were occasionally inaudible.

They could have done with taking the advice of the actress Mary Betterton to the young Nell Gwyn: 'Never underestimate the value of opening one's mouth while speaking.' April De Angelis's spry and entertaining play Playhouse Creatures (Lyric Studio) takes a look at the precarious lot of actresses in the 1670s. While it follows the rise of Nell Gwyn (Fleur Bennett), a canny, vivacious girl capable of looking after number one, it also explores the fortunes of some of her contemporaries. Most moving of these is Mary Betterton (an excellent Frances Cuka), who genuinely loves theatre and finds her age and sagging features pushing her into the wings. There are some clumsy soliloquies, a rather irritating flashback framework and some rather stitched-on sociological references, but by and large this is a fascinating and funny piece, very enjoyably played.

'Playboy of the West Indies' (071-328 1000); 'Playhouse Creatures' (081-741 8701)

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