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The Independent Culture

Gate Theatre, London W11

Towards the end of Strindberg's , one character describes how he had all his actions planned out like a chess game. This comes as no surprise, since the whole play is so schematic and dry it makes a chess handbook seem an inviting read.

is an unwholesome mix of incredible plotting and unadulterated Strindbergian anguish about women. In this work, the playwright was working out his confused feelings for his wife through some cod-psychological nonsense about a woman always belonging to her first husband. So we get the phantoms of his jealousy on stage.

Tekla's maudlin second husband, the invalid Adolf, is pounced on in a hotel morning room by the avenging first husband, Gustav, who proceeds to pollute his unsuspecting mind against her, then prove, by seducing Tekla, that she still belongs to him. The strain of it all proves too much - Adolf's weak spirit and heart give up, and everyone is left with nothing. The characters are unbelievable, the dialogue starchy and flat, and the whole thing laced with Strindberg's most unacceptable utterings on women - "a half-developed man; a youth with udders on his chest" and so forth. Despite a strong cast (Jonathan Arun, Peter Tate and Sorkina Tate) and an elegant set (Moggie Douglas), Claire Nielson's production cannot transform this lead into gold. Perhaps in other hands it might sparkle and achieve some savage, raw power, but it is hard to credit it.

Hell Bent

Drill Hall, London WC1

Nigel Charnock's show scored two walk-outs within five minutes the night I saw it. Perhaps they were offended by the material; perhaps they were upset by the pain Charnock inflicts on himself. Whatever, it was an interesting statement, one that Charnock should treasure, since his performances flirt wildly with danger, both physical and artistic.

Charnock is a founder of the DV8 dance group, and Hell Bent, the last in a trilogy of solo shows, uses all the means of physical and vocal expression he has at his command to trawl through the depths of a damaged sexual psyche. His stage persona, a drag-artist suffering from a broken heart and unrequited sex drive, repeatedly slips between categories and flouts the boundaries of taste. He sings torch-songs (beautifully), he plunges from ladders, hurls himself to the floor, seduces a mannequin, witters away to himself (shaking his dandelion hair like a Pekinese), does a stand- up routine about masturbation, reveals the acne on his cheeks (not his face) and half suffocates himself.

Most memorable is his duet with a large crucifix, around which he drapes himself seductively, freezing into Christ-like positions. It is shocking, but also poignant: as he writhes around he expresses not only sexual longing, but spiritual emptiness. He hovers on the verge of excess, then nips the performance back with charm and self-deprecation. It is an outrageous, vulnerable and engaging show from a virtuoso. He is tackling Ibsen next; stand well back.