Silverface Gate Theatre, London Clare Bayley

'The 3-D advent calendar of a set is the main delight in a production that is full of fun and theatrical thrills'
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The Independent Culture
The description "unstageable" is always a red rag to a bull for a director like David Farr. Indeed, the cattle that have caused other directors to balk at Ramon del Valle Inclan's 1922 play (a herd of them is forbidden from crossing the tyrant Don Juan Manuel de Montenegro's land at the time of the fair) are easily conjured here with the use of a stampeding soundtrack.

Sarah Blenkinsop's 3-D advent calendar of a set is the main delight in a production that is full of fun and theatrical thrills. All around the walls roll the painted hills of Galicia, and the floor is strewn with white paper flowers which lend a bucolic air to the whole play. Hatches open in the wooden walls to reveal paintings of the Madonna or a brothel's bottle store, while from out of trap-doors in the floor clamber peasant puppets, gaming tables, banqueting tables and even the devil himself.

Valle Inclan paints a grotesque vision of a culture and people caught in the deadly pincer movement between a barbaric feudal system and an extravagantly corrupt church. David Johnston gives the translation a Celtic feel, reflected in the Scottish and Irish accents of the cast, but even for a "barbarous comedy" (the playwright's own epithet) there is a great deal too much shouting and raving, cursing ("may you rot in the furthest reaches of hell!") and swearing ("holy mother of God!").

Though Farr perhaps shows a tendency to cast more according to looks than ability (eccentric-looking men and handsome women), the main protagonists are splendid in their roles. Tony Curran has a devilish swagger as the Don's son, pretty Silverface, who is hell-bent on seducing the lovely Sabelita, his father's god-daughter. Tonia Chauvet gamely tackles the thankless task of playing Sabelita, who is constantly in tears due to an unspeakable dilemma; secretly, her bosom heaves not for the son, but for the strappingly handsome father. As Don Juan himself, Donald Sumpter is commanding, cruel and quite obviously a more exciting proposition than his son.

It is the devil, though, who steals the show. Dave Fishley is superb as the cheeky, familiar, African sprite who pokes his head out from the Madonna's altar, cavorts with sinners, leads the fair-goers in a jaunty procession and magnificently corrupts the abbot with a Zulu-style dance of death. He is such an appealing figure that Valle Inclan's point is powerfully made; there's no evil on earth so terrible as a wicked human heart.

n To 25 Nov. Booking: 0171-229 5387

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