Theatre: Aga saga by any other name

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The Independent Culture
TAKE FOUR middle-aged people in Gloucestershire who are anxiously looking for the ghosts of their youth. They lead the kind of lifestyle you feel you could buy from the "respectable" section in Peter Jones: dinner-parties packed with conversation about Agas, trips abroad and flower- arranging; spouses married so long that they see each other merely as conversational accessories; houses with picturesque views, which can be seen through perfectly polished windows which reflect the claustrophobia of their owners' marriages.

Hugh Whitemore's latest play examines what happens when lust shakes such uneasy complacency to its foundations, and Henry - husband of the competent, ambitious Angela - has an affair with the more dreamy, mouse-like Joanna. Cue turmoil, guilt, and seedy scenes in Burford, in a plot that treads well-worn paths in upper middle-class psychology - and fails to convince us as to why we're treading them again.

Watching this play is rather like going out to a swanky new restaurant, and being served up with a delicious but basically unimaginative apple crumble. This is not to say that this is a bad production. Far from it - the high-quality cast ensures that the script shines beyond the limits of its subject-matter. David Horovitch brings a rueful lovability to his role as the cuckolded husband, Alexander, a laconic, predictable man who has swallowed life's disappointments and turned them into an uninspiring joke against himself. Charlotte Cornwell is acidly efficient as Angela, Henry's wife, who ups the play's momentum when she goes on a trip to Peter Jones and disappears into a vacuum beyond the boundaries of Sloane Square.

The action takes place on a stark white set, which despite the garish lighting does little but bring a sense of anaemia to the production. Together with the piano music - a bad imitation of Satie - it jars against the subtlety of the lovers (Stephen Moore and Gemma Jones) as they shyly emerge from dominating marriages and attempt, through their affair, to put aside years of greyness.

Whitemore's script is both tender and funny, but even though I was laughing for a large part of the evening, I kept on asking myself why I was actually there. Theatre should stretch boundaries, and although that doesn't necessarily mean that you should be zipping off to watch Mongolian acrobats performing Twelfth Night in a Ledbury warehouse, surely this work - essentially a slightly upgraded situation comedy - is not what it's about.

Whitemore's gift for language and structure cannot disguise the fact that his insights on mid-life crises and infidelity add little to the subject - even when he invokes the help of watered-down social Darwinism. Go to be amused, go to be moved, but leave your sense of adventure at home.

To 28 August (0171-722 9301)