The Fringe: Murder most horrid

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The Independent Culture
In Huxley's Brave New World, the populace is encouraged to use contraceptives by endless films about children who do horrifying things to their parents. After a week on the London fringe, you can see how this would work: it's just one long round of children murdering and betraying their parents.

For example, in Helene Pedneault's The Statement, at the Watermans, Lena has just killed her mother - because, she says, she hated her. The policeman investigating suspects there's more to it than that, though, and tries to worm the truth out of her. The truth turns out, at last, to be nothing especially surprising, and you end up with your own sense of betrayal - 90 minutes to get this far? But while the psychology is unpersuasive, the thrillerish tension is well maintained, and there's an attractive flat poetry to Pedneault's descriptions of Quebecois life. Susan Penhaligon lacks the toughness you feel the apparently cold-hearted murderess ought to have but has a convincing chemistry with Simon Wright's interrogator, and the production is sleek.

In Oedipus Rex, we already know all about the parricide; but that doesn't account for the lack of tension in Polly Irvin's production at Bridge Lane. The fault lies partly with Peter Oswald's pedestrian translation, partly with underpowered acting; things aren't helped by distractingly tasteless costumes.

That's paired with a comedy by Plautus, The Haunted House - another story of a father abused by his son, although here all the boy has done is waste money on wild parties. Otherwise, the main link with Oedipus is the vile costumes, only partly excused by the fact that they're meant to be wacky. Most of the cast seem more assured in comedy - particularly Ged McKenna as the wily slave trying to help the son out of trouble, and Mark A Benson as a serpentine moneylender.

Parental abuse isn't so prominent in The Merchant of Venice, but you do get Jessica eloping with Shylock's money. In Carol Metcalfe's production - the first at the new Bridewell Theatre behind Fleet Street - the main concern is to show this as one of a series of relationships distorted by money. The City setting is superficially close to David Thacker's current RSC Merchant at Stratford, but thankfully underplayed here; and Clive Paget's integrated, un-Jewish Shylock gives a sickly edge to the other characters' anti-Semitism. But while the overall strategy is worthwhile, a number of individual gambits misfire badly - Jessica's violent disillusionment with Lorenzo, cartoon Australian and Texan accents - and it's hard to buy this Merchant.

'The Statement', Watermans, Brentford (081-568 1176); 'Oedipus Rex' / 'Haunted House', Bridge Lane, SW11 (071-228 8828); 'Merchant of Venice', Bridewell, EC4 (071-936 3456)

(Photograph omitted)