THEATRE Buried Treasure Bush Theatre at the Lyric Studio, London

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The Independent Culture
Invited to choose an inexpensive birthday present for me recently, my small daughters emerged from the shop with a coffee mug that sports a Calman cartoon of a man lying back and musing that "Tomorrow is when I do my best work". Well, it's the thought that counts. Aficionados of the all-purpose excuse will be equally grateful for one of the best lines in Buried Treasure, the new David Ashton play directed by Robin Lefevre for the Bush at the Lyric Studio. An ex-rocker, just back from several years in the slammer, is reminded by his former girlfriend of what a bloody awful lead guitarist he once was. For which his explanation is, "I could never find the right plectrum."

Such offhand rueful humour is typical of the piece. The play is set on the coast of Scotland, the nation that markets a most attractive line in oddball comic quirkiness - on stage and screen at least - which never lets up, however painful and would-be serious the proceedings become. Indeed, there are certain moments in Ashton's play that make you think, peculiarly, of Ibsen's Brand or Master Builder as rewritten by John Tutti Frutti Byrne.

It has to be said, though, that Ashton is much better at producing the comedy than at creating a true sense of the darkness it is supposed to play against. The story centres on the newly released jailbird, Frank (a finely laconic Alexander Morton), who returns to the small coastal town where he ran a Kirk-scandalising dance club on the pier and where he committed the crime for which he was put away. On a night that is now a blank to him, he made, it seems, a blasphemous bonfire of the church. The minister (Jimmy Yuill), an old school rival, had the compensation of marrying Frank's girlfriend (Jennifer Black) but is in no hurry to stop the still-vengeful villagers from stoning the returned man.

The conflict between the values of Kirk and the dance club never cuts very deep and, as it springs its revelations about what drove Frank to fateful arson and precisely how the minister is implicated, the play, which works best when it's in short-story moodpiece mode, has to resort to the crude angularities of melodrama. The most successful strand shows the developing relationship between Frank and Colette O'Neil's excellent Sadie, the cranky, indigent old lady, herself an outcast, who has squatted in the defunct dance club and turns out to have been the lover of Frank's Polish-born father. There's a scene where he suspects her of stealing the coloured light bulbs she has bought for the club's reopening. Indignantly, she declares that she got the money for them by pleasuring an OAP, flush with his pension, in a bus shelter. "Hand relief." (Pause) "I washed them afterwards." She leaves it tantalisingly unclear whether she's made that up. In showing how this canny tactic both asserts her independent-spiritedness and establishes an intimacy with the son of the man she loved, the scene also shows what a very good dramatist Ashton has it in him to be.

To 16 Nov. Booking: 0181-743 2311.

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