On The Fringe

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The Independent Culture


HALF-WAY THROUGH Glyn Maxwell's play, a housewifely medium who has been brought in to help a murder investigation, sits ruminating on the remains of a rich tea biscuit, when she is suddenly possessed by the spirit of a dead toff. A mutated male voice comes raging from her lips, before she resurfaces with the placid revelation: "'E died slowly." The (electronically assisted) effect is hilarious and disturbing, a bit like watching an Alan Bennett monologue being hijacked by Marilyn Manson.

In its violent gear-changes between demonic and demotic tones, the scene bears witness to the chief strength of Broken Journey: a linguistic devil- may-care attitude. Maxwell is an adventurous poet, and here he puts his verbal and rhythmic daring to good use in the theatre.

This is a reworking of Kurosawa's Rashomon, which features four contradictory accounts of an ambush, rape and murder, so it might be argued that this deficiency is the play's puzzle: it's not supposed to add up. But in transferring the setting from 12th-century Kyoto to middle-of-nowhere Nineties England, Maxwell brings to his variant the cul-de-sac feel of an exercise in form.

Drunk and stranded without petrol, Andre and Chloe encounter Troy, a biker. The trio are spied on by a delivery boy. What happens between them is disputed via reruns of the action from different perspectives: Troy fancies Chloe, but does he rape her, or does she let herself be seduced? Is Andre killed in a scuffle, or does he take his own life? Do we really care?

There are some droll performances which prevent the onset of repetitive scene ennui, particularly from Felicity Wren as the air-headed, kinky Chloe childishly delighted by the power games her presence stirs.

Christopher Preston's comedy, The Davids, boasts a lust triangle too, albeit in the more frequented groves of Hampstead Heath. David (Alan Mosley) finds himself being pursued by a 23-year-old boy band star with a thing about men in their forties and a former shag from 20 years ago. Both want (horror of horrors!) a committed relationship.

Although the cast strips and simulates sex at the drop of a Kleenex, chemistry eludes Phil Setren's production. Mosley is good at louche looks but has trouble fleshing out a dilemma that never seems overly troublesome. The resolution is even more perfunctory than most of the soapy dialogue, but it's hard to hate a play with lines such as "I need a bit more than fuck-off fabulous looks and a big dick" without a second thought.

The lines are no less bald but far less entertaining in Savonarola, a portrait of the Catholic zealot who turned Renaissance Florence upside down with a programme to combat veniality under the Medicis and ended up being burnt at the stake for his trouble.

Perhaps he did tend to cut conversations dead with remarks such as: "There is only one path to follow, that of purification." But the self-righteousness in Candida Cave's episodic play places the character beyond our sympathy. The court is sketched in equally two-dimensional terms - self-serving going on God-fearing. In Jacqui Somerville's adequate production, Gary Condes supplies looks of savage seizure. Paradoxically, when he opens his mouth, one feels he might as well be selling car insurance.

`Broken Journey' (0171-704 2001) to 28 Nov; `The Davids' (0171-373 3842) to 27 Nov; `Savonarola'

(0171-794 0022) to 28 Nov