Theatre

Abundance Riverside Studios, London
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The Independent Culture
Two young women sit in a cattle station in the middle of nowhere, Wyoming, in the late 1860s awaiting the arrival of their mail-order husbands. Macon is spirited and ready for adventure (she plans to build an ice palace, write a novel and kill an Indian with a hot bullet); Bess is demure and nervy, preparing herself to be the ideal wife. The letters she's received from her future husband indicate a sensitive soul, but the man who arrives, his brother Jack, announces that he has died in an accident. Poor Bess is lumped with the boorish Jack (Corey Johnson) while Macon gets a gentle but ineffectual husband, William (William Curtis), who wears an eye patch. Two more hellish marriages would be hard to imagine.

The ironically titled Abundance charts the fortunes of these two women over 25 years of hardship and suffering. Their friendship is random, born of necessity, yet it profoundly affects both their lives. When Bess's good-for-nothing husband Jack ruins them and then goes crazy, Macon and William take them in. Four years later, they're still there, and when Bess is abducted by Indians (they know this because they find an arrow conveniently entangled in her discarded shawl), Macon's hospitality gladly extends to accommodate Jack's conjugal needs. Imagine their disappointment when, five years later, Bess is discovered and liberated from her captors. It's time for the worm to turn. A handy journalist ensures that Bess's story becomes a best-selling publishing phenomenon. When Jack sees the silver dollars rolling in, he abandons Macon without a backward glance as does her bankrupted husband, who reckons he's suffered in silence long enough.

Beth Henley - whose film credits include Crimes of the Heart, Nobody's Fool and partial responsiblity for David Byrne's True Stories - has a bizarre, cruel humour in her writing, which is not reflected in Lisa Forrell's blatantly commercial production. Despite the atmospheric backdrop painted by Jeff Carpenter, the production is too fresh-faced and bonny for the edginess of the writing, so that it's moments of contrivance and predictability come across more than it's darker undertow. Myriam Cyr (Bess) and Maryam D'Abo (Macon) give spirited performance as the ill-matched friends, but it's easier to suspend disbelief and imagine yourself in a West End theatre, than out on the lonely prairie. The chance to get a closer look at Beth Henley's stage writing is more than welcome, and it would be a good thing to see work of this ilk in the West End but if it tries too hard, it'll never get there.

n Crisp Rd, London W6 (0171-836 3464), booking to 3 Dec

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