THEATRE / Arrest of judgement: Paul Taylor reviews Richard Zajdlic's Rage at the Bush

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The Independent Culture
Hanging himself by his underpants while in police custody is the one successful thing 18-year- old Nick Ellis has ever accomplished - at least it is if you believe he was pressured into falsely confessing to stabbing a policewoman, for which he'd been charged. The death of this under- achieving, middle-class drop-out is the pivotal event in Richard Zajdlic's Rage, a play which explores its impact on the boy's GP father and family.

There's an intriguing twist, though, as first becomes evident in Mike Bradwell's arresting staging of the suicide. Nick is seen in savage silhouette through the translucent walls of Geoff Rose's fine design; while, lying in bed on our side of the screens, Lesley, the gravely ill policewoman (Helen Baxendale), begins to look the picture of beatific peace. It emerges that Lesley, on the brink of death, has been born again. Having seen God, she's loath to lie that she saw her attacker.

Her refusal to testify that it was Nick is a setback for two men who have an unlovely vested interest in her doing so: her ex-lover (Kevin Dignam), the police officer who extracted the confession; and Nick's father Dr Ellis (Nicky Henson), who is worried that reopening the case will also unlock the Pandora's Box of this family's troubled past. The doctor eventually joins forces with the dubious male cop to convince the police that the young woman needs psychiatric help. An ironic alliance, in the circumstances.

It was never clear to me, though, why believing that the boy was guilty was held, by the father, to be so crucial to the family's ability to cope. On what grounds could they think they had let him down less if he had indeed resorted to violent crime? Also, the balance of forces in the drama would be more compelling if you were offered a greater sense of the policewoman's impure motive in pursuing this purified vision of the world, without proper regard for other peoples' feelings. There's a bit of talk about a Jesus-complex she had at school and she's equipped with a grudge by the charmless ex-lover, but there's not enough to give her a sufficiently dangerous charge.

Ian Curtis and Sasha Hails, recent drama school graduates, are quite excellent as Nick and his younger sister Katherine, the one horribly pathetic and lost under his taunting manner and street- cred, the other a wonderfully waspish, sad mix of precocious sophistication and emotional insecurity. Sue Johnston is superb, too, as their volatile, voluble mother, so depressed she feels an intruder in her own home.

Rage has obvious talent, but rings false as often as it rings true. There are excellent details, but there are also falsities. The play opens with the parents' 20th wedding anniversary. Would they really be celebrating their 21st at the end, given what this date now also commemorates? Ten for symmetry; nought for tact.

Box office: 081-743 3388

(Photograph omitted)

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