THEATRE / One angry man: Paul Taylor on Osborne's Inadmissable Evidence

A CYNIC might say that Inadmissible Evidence (1964) offers us an instructive case of the ship leaving the sinking rat. But that would be a miserably inadequate response to John Osborne's awesome, flawed, throat-grabbing play. True, everyone is busy deserting Maitland, the self-made solicitor whose mid-life crisis is the drama's obsessive focus. By the end, he's lost clients, secretary, and managing clerk; his daughter has walked out on him without a word, and his long-term mistress has indicated that she, too, can't promise to stick around. But then it's not hard to see how this overbearing, womanising misogynist has managed to occasion such an exodus.

But the special potency of Inadmissible Evidence comes from the way it simultaneously gives you an unsparing, objective view of this man and a forceful sense of what the world looks like from inside his skull as he flounders through two nightmarish days that increasingly have the powerless, solipsistic feel of an actual dream. The play is not so much a postcard as a 40-page letter from the edge; at its best, it's a transfixing study of a man who longs tormentedly for what he's doomed to repel or destroy: love.

The fact that the Lyttelton revival is directed by a woman, Di Trevis, has attracted much amused press comment, as though putting a feminist in charge of an Osborne play is roughly the equivalent of hiring a Nazi to revive The Sound of Music. But apart from the ending, where Trevis adds a glimpse of all the play's women now ganged up in the jury box, as if waiting to pass sentence on the protagonist, there's not much here that suggests a specifically female approach.

See-through walls, with a central spooky corridor at the end of which his clients can be perceived waiting, contribute to the rather arty dream-atmosphere created here. It's a production of interesting touches that fail, in the main, to add up to an overwhelming experience, although there are odd details that devastate. Terrified of losing touch with the world, the hero has a desperate and mistrustful dependency on the telephone throughout the play, so it's a grimly revealing stroke here that when Trevor Eve's Maitland rings his wife up at the end to tell her he's not coming home, he merely kicks the receiver off the hook and starts babbling. A bleak index of his growing conviction that there's nobody there.

Staring with twitchy recognition at his clients as though they've crawled out of some cranny in his diseased psyche, Eve gives an accomplished enough account of Maitland's crack-up. But even when the lava flows in his performance (as it does when he harangues his silent daughter, pouring out his hatred and envy of Sixties youth culture) you still feel you're watching a healthy actor doing his stuff. The whiff of spreading, yeasty rot that came off Nichol Williamson when he revived the part in 1978 is not there. As with the production, you're given a ride on the dodgems when what you wanted was the big dipper.

Continues in rep (Box office 928 2252).

(Photograph omitted)

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