Theatre: A Play for Jimmy Baldwin; Oval House, London

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The Independent Culture
Ageing under-achiever Roy Mensah harbours a life-long dream of becoming a Great Writer like his hero James Baldwin. But conceited Roy is better at talking a good book than writing one. While he waits for divine inspiration and comforts himself with drink, his long-suffering wife polishes off a full-length novel. And when his son brings home a gay Baldwin scholar, Roy is made to face up to his inability to accept differences in others.

PK Addo's prize-winning satire of hero worship and homophobia loses some of its shine here in this staging by Ariya, Britain's first black opera company.

However, Alex Lartey gives an excellent comic performance as the voluble, unambitious Roy for whom Baldwin's anti-oppression strictures have become a convenient shield, from behind which you could blame society for your every failing. Victor, his champagne-swilling sidekick, superbly played by Owen Pegram, is equally hypocritical - a principled equal opportunities manager at work, an incorrigible bigot everywhere else. Together they comically underscore Addo's wry views about role modelling, and the prevailing ideas of manliness and courage.

Ariya's curiously lethargic production dulls the play's satiric bite and no prizes for acting would be handed out among the supporting players. Yet there are engaging performances to enjoy.

Maria Warner is impressive as Roy's unhappy wife, Emma, who regrets having once allowed him to woo her with a copy of The Fire Next Time.

n To 24 March. Booking: 0171-582 7680