A modern morality tale of drink, lust and money

Incarcerator | BAC, London
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Slipping into one costume and accent after another, Peter Kenvyn, zestfully impersonating the incarcerator of the title, presides over various forms of human bondage. As pompous bank manager, slimy barman, prissy office manager, and villain demanding money with a threat to menace a woman and her baby, he highlights two couples' enslavement to drink, lust and money.

Slipping into one costume and accent after another, Peter Kenvyn, zestfully impersonating the incarcerator of the title, presides over various forms of human bondage. As pompous bank manager, slimy barman, prissy office manager, and villain demanding money with a threat to menace a woman and her baby, he highlights two couples' enslavement to drink, lust and money.

Torben Betts's play is written in hudibrastic verse, its plinkety-plonkety, mocking metre just right for such exchanges as a woman's complaint that men regard sex as a game "like conkers, marbles or Meccano'', followed by one listener's question: "What's she mean?'' and another's reply: "I'm fucked if I know.'' A nervous groom, dressing, says, "I'm sweating, mate. I'm shittin' rocks.'' His best man shrugs. "So cancel it.'' Sigh. "Oh, pass me socks.''

Jessop, the groom (John Lightbody), who has lost his job and got into debt, persuades his childhood sweetheart, Fisher, to date Morris (David Hollet), who has promised him a fat introduction fee. Fisher marries the wealthy Morris, who then learns he is sterile. So she offers the still-skint Jessop, for whom she yearns, another fee, for another service. Meanwhile, the sweetly daffy Nigel Barrett, his character described in the cast list as "an ingénu'' (no such word: he means "naïve'', or even "mooncalf'') wanders about, dispensing love and unwittingly provoking the play's gruesome end.

Peter Craze's production, though forceful in execution and appearance (the stage is partitioned by rows of hanging chains, recalling the wonderful line in The Beggar's Opera about fetters at all prices), sags badly in the second act - not his fault but that of the play, which is too long and not sharp or tight enough.

Beginning as a coarse, chilly comedy of vice, with flourishes of melodrama in acknowledgement of its Jacobean models ("Fermented wine shall ease me to my bed. Devil take tomorrow!''), Incarcerator loses its tension by extending itself to a sympathetic portrayal of its characters' anguish. And it's hard to believe that Fisher (the charmingly sulky and convincingly intelligent Lisa Reeves), who talks like one of Shakespeare's sparky, sceptical heroines, would spend any time with the three meatballs, much less befriend one, love another, and marry the third.

Still, Betts has a finely tuned ear for contemporary hypocrisy and a nice line in sardonic wit. I partic-ularly liked his bridegroom, recounting the lies he has had to tell to bed girls, saying that marriage means an end to "false emotion". That gets the kind of laugh that sticks in the throat.

To 4 Feb (020-7223 2223)

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