Quarks of life: Round-up

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The Independent Culture
No critic, according to Ken Campbell, has ever told the truth, which is that all theatre is bollocks - blank verse bollocks, bollocks with pauses, Brechtian bollocks, whatever. What the critic can do, though, is grade the bollocks; and Campbell's new monologue, Mystery Bruises, which now graces the Almeida, is very high- class bollocks indeed.

There are familiar preoccupations here from earlier Campbell monologues, but what's different here is the sheer concentration of ideas. It's a dense slice of intellectual history, with insights gathered across a wide range of topics: sub- atomic physics, ufology, Shakespearian exegesis.

Campbell tends to attract adjectives like 'anarchic' - and certainly, he abolishes any hierarchy of ideas. At one point, he says it's a tenet of Method acting that the small parts are as important as the big ones; and perhaps he's best described as a kind of Method thinker, giving the same weight to all ideas, regardless of origin - Stephen Hawking's thoughts on the origins of matter are given less airplay than the 18th-century madman James Tilley Matthews' descriptions of Jacobin mind- influencing machines.

But the way that the parenthetical rambling of Mystery Bruises is punctuated by terse epigrams ('Power is like a toad - there's not much point to the thing unless you abuse it') shows a sense of dramatic rhythm you rarely find in more conventional plays. It's sharply crafted and, more to the point, deeply funny: in fact, the dog's bollocks.

Craftsmanship is also an outstanding feature of Maureen Hunter's Transit of Venus - to the point, in fact, that it rather precludes emotional engagement. There's something suspiciously contrived about this story of a romance between a girl and an astronomer, set in the France of the Age of Reason. Still, for two days last week at the Pit, it at least provided a useful showcase for Alison Sutcliffe, an RSC assistant director, and her RSC cast - if all the Barbican main- house shows displayed the same level of intelligence and style, we'd be laughing.

Manifesto, Volcano Theatre's energetic, eclectic version of Marx and Engels, is far less schematic than you'd expect, but unlikely to appeal to anybody but convinced Marxists. Which makes it seem rather pointless.

'Mystery Bruises' at the Almeida, London N1, to 2 July (071-359 4404). 'Manifesto', BAC, London SW11, to 3 July (071-223 2223).

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