Smothered at birth

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The Independent Culture
There is no faulting Theatre Cryptic for the sheer imagination which pulsates through its new production, but with its haunting symbolism and visual pyrotechnics, Child-Lover suffers from too many frills at the expense of substance.

The story is straightforward: Annie and Daniel, still childless after 15 years of marriage, are drawn into an endless circle of recrimination, suspicion and shame which has as much to do with their failure to communicate as with their failure to conceive. In desperation, Annie turns first to the Church (the most memorable scene of the evening), and then to Pagan worship, for which she pays the ultimate price when her child is stillborn.

Michle Roberts' text, commissioned for the company, has a rich, sensual quality which is enchanting on the page but insubstantial on stage. Its folk-tale simplicity is lost under a welter of visual metaphors straining to create mystery where none exists. Theatre Cryptic is undoubtedly a spirited and ambitious young company, but whether it is up to the emotional demands of the script is less certain.

Upstaged by a hopelessly self-conscious set composed of 24 doors, the cast seemed to be in a perpetual struggle with a jumble of elements which obscure the emotion they are trying to convey. Director Cathy Boyd has created some magical moments, beautifully lit and complemented by a musical score with shades of the Cocteau Twins. Marianne Cotterill is a superb soprano, and there are two strong central performances from Quebecois actors Rene Madeleine Le Guerrier and Stphane Thoret. But for all the physical energy of the dancer-actors, you come away wishing they could just tell us what they mean in more direct and heartfelt language, and the overall effect is one of indulgence, where simplicity would have worked best.

Much the same can be said of Notre-Dame de Paris, a French language stage adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel by Thtre du Kronope. There's a sustained impression of commedia dell'arte in this stylised production, in which a succession of masks creates the illusion of a huge ensemble. In fact there are just six actors who take on an extraordinary range of characters in a fast, funny, but ultimately flimsy production.

Only Esmeralda and Frollo, Notre-Dame's priest, escape having to wear masks, conferring on them a depth of humanity denied the others, who more often resemble exiles from Sesame Street. Which may explain why Esmeralda and Frollo stand out as the central and most persuasive characters, while the rest - even Quasimodo - are largely confined to slapstick and farce. Despite this flaw, it is a skillful production which makes splendid use of a simple stage, shaped like a giant, tilted wheel on which the action turns. But it remains an evening that is ultimately unsatisfying.

n 'Child-Lover' is at the Tramway (0141-227 5511); 'Notre-Dame de Paris' ends tonight at the Tron (0141-552 4267)

Aaron Hicklin