ON THE FRINGE Seventy Scenes of Halloween; Get Out of Hear!; It Took More Than One Man

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The Independent Culture
The 70th scene in Seventy Scenes of Halloween (Pentameters, Hampstead) consists solely of a banner with the words "The End" daubed in crude strokes of stage-blood. It's Jeffrey M Jones's little joke, at once acknowledging his work's resemblance to a cheap horror movie and re-summoning, at the 11th hour, the conventional narrative spirit which the previous 68 scenes have all but exorcised. By this stage, the two protagonists - an ordinary- looking suburban couple, Joan and Jeff - have experienced much grisly stabbing and smothering. But the American playwright's cut-up technique, by which the order of proceedings is seemingly determined at random, has disorientated us so much that we no longer expect fatal actions to be of any consequence.

It's as though David Lynch has commandeered an amateur production of Scooby-Doo: the mindless pair are stalked by zombie doppelgangers, while a witch mask, a beast mask and white sheets are regularly donned by every member of Fivefold TC's six-strong cast. It has all the ingredients for an unwholesomely mellow dramatic brew, but John Guerrasio's energetic direction brings out the play's rich, metaphorical flavour.

The constant reworking of similar scenes accretes an image of banal routine sucking the life-blood out of a relationship to the unheeded screams of locked-away psyches. Lacking any real middle or beginning, Seventy Scenes is, in fact, a series of endings - the nominal "end" feels arbitrary, but then so it should; the hell that Jones has created for his characters is not a bloodfest, but the drip-drip of endless marital disappointment.

The close of Get Out of Hear! (BAC, Battersea) has a similarly tacked- on feel, but seems to have no justification other than the highly laudable one of getting Commotion TC off the stage. Lucifer (Mark Bell) finds himself tumbling through the sky for a second time in one night, having been blown off a cloud with a single bird-whistle trill by the three hapless mortals he latched on to after his ejection from Heaven. Along with Whispa bars, the bird-whistle is one of the few amusing toys / weapons deployed by the quartet during their relentless power games; mostly, they rely on histrionics so cliche-laden and self-indulgent it's a miracle they are not struck down with thunderbolts by some offended deity. The company has recently been praised to the hilt for its physical retellings of Don Juan and Don Quixote. Watching co-founder Gerry Flanagan playing buffoon- turned-God Bernard, reclining on a pile of Kapok after a duvet fight, you wonder whether the fluff hasn't gone to his head. If this is Commotion's Paradise Lost, then, in the word of the poet himself, it's worse than fables yet have feigned.

Ivan Cartwright's idea of Heaven would, no doubt, be relatively straightforward; an abundance of clothes, mirrors and round-the-clock screenings of old Hollywood movies. In his revamped solo show, It Took More Than One Man (Albany, Deptford), he has more costume changes than a cat-walk model during London Fashion Week. They're as messy as the autobiographical meander through his sexually confused life, but Cartwright is endowed with so much camp Huddersfield chutzpah, you can forgive almost anything - even the ending, which trails off as he reaches the decision not to have that op after years of living as a woman. He lets his mam's words of advice stand in for all that unspoken angst: "You could have a fin put on your back and change your name to Flipper but that doesn't make you a dolphin." And perhaps, after all, he was right to leave the matter at that.

`Seventy Scenes of Halloween', Pentameters, NW3, to 16 March (0171- 435 3648); `Get Out of Here!', BAC, SW11, to Sun (0171-223 8910); `It Took More Than One Man', Albany Theatre, SE8, to Sat (0181-692 4446)