Reviews: On the London fringe

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The Independent Culture
Advance reports about Paul Watson's fly-on-the-dinner party documentary showing Middle England at its opinionated worst may have already induced a deep sense of national shame in the upper echelons of the media, but a trip to Autumn and Winter (Man in the Moon), Lars Noren's expose of Middle Sweden, soon puts things into perspective. At least we know what makes for good viewing. Try as they might to talk at table about euthanasia, drug abuse and the recession, the characters in Noren's family drama keep returning volubly, and without irony, to the same dull topic. Themselves. Ann (suitably grouchy Beata von Oelreich) is the daughter from hell, whose chief pleasure in attending her parents' monthly get-together is to whine about her life as a single-mother and struggling playwright and to confront the ageing pair about her childhood. When Ann's not complaining, her sister Ewa - held up as her high-flying happy opposite - chips in about her eating, sleeping and marital disorders. And when she's not complaining, it's the turn of their mother, Margareta, to have a go at dad, washed-out doctor Heinrik. No wonder all he can do is blink like a sad toad and croak things like "I haven't said anything for 20 years".

Noren is apparently Sweden's most frequently performed living playwright, but this British premiere does little to convince that he is much more than a light-deprived Alan Ayckbourn. The explicitness of the exchanges, in which each character says their piece without really listening to the other party, does, in theory, ring true of family life and, at times, strikes a comic chord. But it's a dramatic trick Noren pulls too often, leaving you feeling that all he has up his sleeve is an endless amount of therapist's Kleenex.

That relentless outspokenness need not necessarily mean glaring obviousness is stylishly demonstrated by Trivial TC's English revival of Bernard-Marie Koltes's Dans la Solitude des Champs de Coton (In the Solitude of the Cotton Fields) at the Gate. The more explicitly the two characters, known simply as the Client and the Dealer, attempt to state their intentions, the more ambiguous and sinister they sound. "The only actual frontier is between the buyer and the seller," Kimon Koufogiannis's Dealer explains, as he paces a strip of pavement in diametrical opposition to Joseph Lewis's gutter-situated Client. Koltes's dense language, which meshes paradoxical aphorism with protracted simile, is sometimes mind-boggling, but at its best conveys the primitive violence lurking in the most ineffable transaction. Koltes died of Aids in 1989, but this 1987 piece still looks good 10 years on - for all the Nordic gloom that Naomi Brooks' lighting design throws at it.

`Autumn and Winter' (0171-351 2876) to 29 March; `In the Solitude of the Cotton Fields' to 5 April (0171-229 5387)

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