The good, the bad and the avant-garde

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The Independent Culture
The Brutality of Fact

New End Theatre, London

Philip Larkin's celebrated dismissal of family life ("they fuck you up, your mum and dad"...) opens the programme for by the American writer Keith Reddin, and certainly the relatives Reddin portrays are no advertisement for the joys of family life. Mom is getting hazy, one daughter is dead, another lives in Guam, a third is alcoholic and a fourth is a Jehovah's Witness. Since Guam and death are off the map, the play focuses on the latter two daughters and follows the explosions that occur when they meet up after years apart.

In a series of short, sassy scenes, Reddin contrasts the resolutely bad Maggie and the determinedly good Jackie, following Maggie's progress towards sobriety, Jackie's gathering confusion about paradise and Mom's uncertain position between them.

It is a neatly structured, funny and enjoyable play, but as it progresses the Larkin reference becomes mystifying. Apart from a couple of remarks about how mom and dad were too busy with cocktail parties to attend to their daughter's needs, it is hard to see how the parents messed them up. Both daughters' addictions seemed to have more to do with their sexuality than their childhood, in as much as any explanation emerges.

Kathryn Pogson is wonderfully belligerent and funny as Maggie, Barbara Barnes is disturbingly drawn as Jackie and Marjorie Yates is excellent as their world-weary mother, Val. But both play and production hint at depths not fully sounded.

Sarah Hemming


Young Vic, London

Before David Glass's production of The Mosquito Coast arrives at the Young Vic's main house next week, the director-performer takes the stage of the studio with an extraordinarily powerful piece that reminds us how he made his name. In Lucky, Glass uses the fact that physical theatre relies on non-verbal expression to try to enter into the withdrawn world of the autistic child. The result is a fusion of style and subject that is sometimes spell-bindingly beautiful and sometimes crosses the boundaries of taste to profoundly disturbing effect.

Glass performs in an open scaffolding box that suggests the psychological cage into which his character has been born. He arrives twisted and silent and hides beneath the boards of the stage. He is accompanied by Sarah Collins, who plays keyboards, runs effects and embodies a mother / carer figure who tries to reach the lonely human with objects, touch and sounds. The show is full of startling images - at one point, Collins lies on the stage, letting Glass stroke her hair as he slowly crams it into his mouth as if hungry for human contact.

But while Glass lends the character moments of calm dignity, he also suggests the terrifying abyss over which his life is suspended, occasionally lurching out over the audience with a terrible scream. Extremely distressing, this is also highly effective. We cannot judge how accurately Glass, Collins and their director Rae Smith convey the experience of autism, but they draw us with them into their imagined projection of the condition. Bold and moving theatre. SH

Voodoo City

BAC, London

Stan's Cafe, who devised and perform this work, advertise their commitment to "exploring the possibilities of new theatre", which here means a brutal avant-garde cabaret performed on a scaffolding wrestling-ring to a screaming rock score. The multimedia show is topped and tailed by a social lament written in the style of Allen Ginsberg ("break yourself in this concrete place"). In between are bitter sketches, plotting despair and isolation in a barren industrial world. In the best, two of the impressive four- strong cast studiously arrange household debris into a nonsensical altar and then kid themselves into diabolic possession. In another, a woman on a precipice finds herself unable to control her hands (actually the hands of another actress) and humiliates herself by making uncontrollable passes at a bemused by-standing male. The company claim that their work is unpalatable because it is true, but their mixture of wise humour and expressionist din would be tricky to swallow in any studio theatre. It would make more sense for them to perform in a public space, fighting for attention with the landscape they are describing and causing the eyes of innocent passers-by to jump out of their sockets.

Tom Morris