Theatre: Cardiff's coolest

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IRVINE WELSH (and anyone else wanting to know how to bring young people back into the theatre) should take a trip to Cardiff. Now that rock'n'roll, and Welsh rock'n'roll in particular, is... well... the new rock'n'roll, there are few greater enticements that a play can offer hip young things than the slogan "in association with the Manic Street Preachers".

The Manics, hot from their double whammy at the Brits (Best British Band and Best Album), have taken time out to lend their support to this play about "the generation without a voice, until now". The fact that the first- time playwright Patrick Jones is guitarist Nicky Wire's big brother is, of course, quite useful.

And so the young and the cool of Cardiff flock to Everything Must Go - a bleak tone poem set in the urban wasteland of South Wales. Opening with the declaration that "we didn't start fighting the war that's called `living today'", it is a nihilistic call to arms for a generation raised on unemployment benefit and temazepam.

Writer Jones is a published poet, and his first play drinks deeply from the well of assonance and the ancient traditions of Welsh lyricism. The actors, meanwhile, deliver the raging swaths of text with style and power. As A, the articulate (anti-)hero trying to fight an enemy he cannot identify, Oliver Ryan is by turns funny and bombastic, touching and terrifying. As Pip, who is more resigned to the bleakness of his existence and gets what kicks he can from car theft and drugs, Roger Evans plays the perfect downbeat foil to Ryan's frenetic fluency. The director Phil Clark and the designer Jane Linz Roberts create a bleak, macabre anti-wonderland in which set-pieces are staged meticulously, and a swarm of extras - from green-smocked, masked, robotic factory workers to a stylised monochrome graveyard that echoes a war cemetery.

Everything Must Go is not a feel-good play. With its constant supine threat that "one day we'll find our voice" (but not today) and its railing against "Them" - the faceless forces that hold the oppressed Welsh masses down - there are times when Everything Must Go is less Cool Cymru and more Whingeing Wales. Either this play is a decade late in its depiction of the Welsh zeitgeist, or the crust of new-found Cambrian confidence is still tremulously thin. But for those supposedly theatre-shy young people, it's the hottest ticket in town.

Runs until 13 March 1999. Box office: 01222 230451