THEATRE / Fair cop: Jeffrey Wainwright on The Lodger, Manchester

It is to be hoped that the small English town that is the setting for Simon Burke's Mobil Prize-winning new play is unusually unfortunate in its constabulary, or we are in worse trouble than we thought. It's hard to know whether to be more alarmed by Reed, a cynical youngish detective, or his colleague Wise, who takes in as lodgers first a whore and then her pimp and ends up with his own number on cards in every phone box in town. Even tracking the action at a very steady plod we had Lois sussed from the start, and as soon an the wise-cracking Pollock - 'like the fish' - puts down his suitcase we can tell he's a slimeball even before he starts cosying his switch-blade up to her nose.

It's love that makes Wise so dumb - or sex, since, as Pollock says, he has to take what he's given. Even before Lois turns up he's in pursuit of it via a computer date, presenting himself quite touchingly in his white shirt and blazer to a schoolteacher who makes an excuse and an early escape. At this point we don't know he's in the CID, though he's been evasive enough for us to guess he must be up to no good.

Nevertheless the first half retains interest both because the slow set-up leaves everything to play for, and because of some sharp, stylised dialogue rich in one-liners and well delivered under Richard Wilson's direction. In the first scene Philip Jackson's Wise, weighed down by the ill-fitting trousers that sag round his hips and with his head tugged involuntarily forward by an unkempt forelock, is far too ponderous for the sexy, undeceived patina of Julia Ford's Lois. She 'got her emotions out of the way early', she tells him - she was once in love with herself but found they were incompatible.

Simon Burke has so much of a talent for hard-boiled bons mots, he likes to spread them around: asked if he's married, Reed replies: 'hard to tell', and Pollock (Mark Womack) rues not taking the plastic bag Lois was carrying when they first met instead of her. A darker shade of noir is what the author is after.

Dark it may be, but deep it isn't. The long anticipated nastiness turns out neither surprising nor theatrically exciting, and the twist at the end would embarrass a puppy- dog's tail. Tame and uninventive, The Lodger is quite without resonance on any other level. Yes, its point is that the real villains are not desperate, victimised whores, or even unlovely drug-pushing pimps despairing at how to fill their seventy years, but those who rig evidence, cover up, close hospitals . . . But this is hardly a dizzying intellectual discovery, and the main dramatic challenge it involves - to render some sympathetic depth to the tantalisingly intelligent Pollock - is barely taken up.

Despite Simon Burke's claims in the programme to the contrary, there is nothing in word, characterisation, theme or excitement here that is not routinely provided by television and film. As he rightly says, theatre must do something else and something more. It is amazing that an international play competition of the scale of the Mobil could not find such theatre to honour with its award.

At the Royal Exchange, Manchester until 26 February (Box office: 061-833 9833).

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015