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

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before