Daryl's just the Marilyn kind

<i>The Seven Year Itch </i>| Queen's, London <i>The Guardsman </i>| Albery, London <i>Mademoiselle Colombe </i>| Bridewell, London <i>Further than the Furthest Thing</i> | RNT, London
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The Independent Culture

Seeking an adulterous affair? Having problems with persistent fantasies? Into viewing innocence lost? If so, it's been your kind of week.

Seeking an adulterous affair? Having problems with persistent fantasies? Into viewing innocence lost? If so, it's been your kind of week.

For starters, at the Queen's Theatre, we've had Daryl Hannah materialising in George Axelrod's concupiscent American comedy, The Seven Year Itch. Yes, that's yet another Hollywood celeb lured by the West End and yet another lamentable stage revamp of a vintage movie (as if The Graduate and Brief Encounter weren't enough).

Hannah appears as the Girl, the nameless bimbo embodied by Marilyn Monroe in the film of 1955. As such, she obligingly fulfils the randy dreams of Rolf Saxon's Richard, our seven-years-married anti-hero whose mid-life crisis boils over when his wife quits the city for the summer vac and he claps eyes on the juicy dame from upstairs. Mercifully, Hannah acquits herself fairly decently - apart from slipping into a couple of transparent frocks. Generally, she plays the blonde, dim, wannabe actress from Hicksville with tousled sweetness. Occasionally she's even winningly silly, shrieking that she could go fetch some potato chips as if she's just invented the wheel.

However, she is merely imitating Monroe with her breathy, babyish voice (although the text is actually Axelrod's stage version). She'd also have to exude far more needy loneliness to explain why she'd climb into bed with Saxon's Richard, a peculiarly charmless jerk.

Maybe in the 1950s Axelrod's fundamentally blithe depiction of extramarital flings seemed both daring and droll. Today, Richard simply looks monstrously unreconstructed as he merrily declares it's only logical that a man would assault a younger woman.

Meanwhile, Axelrod's repetitive script is almost as dim-witted as his inane heroine, and Michael Il Postino Radford's staging is staggeringly cack-handed, with Richard's subconscious addressing him over a tinny Tannoy system.

Next, at the Albery, Greta Scacchi and Michael Pennington can be spied in The Guardsman. This is a far more ingenious and potentially delving comedy about infidelity and the role that invention plays in love, written by Hungary's much-neglected Ferenc Molnár in 1911 (and here translated by Frank Marcus).

Nandor, a leading actor, has been married for six months to Ilona, a stage diva. Their honeymoon sentiments are souring and he is paranoid that she'll indulge in liaisons while he's on tour. So he throws on a disguise and woos his wife as a dashing guardsman.

She succumbs to this gentleman's charms, yet, when confronted by Nandor, explains that she herself has been feigning. While Molnar's layers of truth and pretending create laughable confusions of identity, The Guardsman is also, implicitly, a touching and sad portrait of how romantic inclinations linger at the heart of jaded marriages and how distrust is coupled with all-too-eager self-deceptions.

What's sorely disappointing is that director Janet Suzman, who is normally sharply intelligent, fails to explore the psychological complexities of this couple's imaginary affairs.

Scacchi's Ilona initially impresses, swanning round her drawing-room with simultaneous arrogance and teasing warmth. Unfortunately though, with her guardsman she lapses into merely hammy postures, denying her ardour any depth. Pennington's transmogrification is superficially splendid - switching from silver-haired jitters to a jet-black wig and a proud gait. He also has lively flashes as a split personality, simpering as the admirer then fuming as the spouse. Nevertheless, his assumed foreign accent - veering between mock-German and Californian - is fooling no one.

Moving across to the Bridewell Theatre on the Fringe, we find Jean Anouilh's Mademoiselle Colombe (neatly translated by Jeremy Sams). Strikingly akin to The Guardsman, this startlingly poignant French boulevard comedy was written in 1951 (just before The Seven Year Itch).

Here, a protective husband called Julien has to join up, and his wife, Colombe, transmutes into an actress and adulteress under the corrupting - or liberating - influence of his thespian mamma, Madame Alexandra, and his rakish actor brother.

Graeme Messer's production is blighted by Honor Blackman, whose Alexandra merely manoeuvres herself into the limelight in various lavish gowns. Sophie Bold's Colombe is also a limp ingénue.

However, Norman Coates's set is haunting, creating dressing-rooms with free-standing doors and racks of shimmering costumes. Anouilh's coups de théatre are potent, too. Colombe's slide into infidelity via a rehearsed love scene is acutely unsettling and Julien's closing nostalgic vision of Colombe as her youthful, supposedly unsullied self is at once deeply comforting and, possibly, a tragic tissue of lies.

Last, but not least, is Further than the Furthest Thing, an admirable new play by the twentysomething Zinnie Harris, nurtured by the Royal National Theatre and now playing in the Cottesloe.

Inspired by the enforced exodus from the remote Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha in the 1960s, this is a tale of simple folk unhappily enticed into the industrialised world.

This piece could have lapsed into rigidly researched history or been heavily didactic about colonialism, but Harris winningly produces an intimate and poetic, as well as political, family saga.

In Irina Brown's production, the impressionistic set isn't great - with a shower curtain for a waterfall. But Harris's islanders, speaking a naive patois, are extraordinarily touching. Paola Dionisotti is heart-rending as the beleaguered yet spirited old native, Mill, and Darrell D'Silva, portraying the deceiving factory-owner Mr Hansen, manages to be both a charlatan and a man with a painfully guilty conscience. See this.

'The Seven Year Itch': Queen's Theatre, W1 (020 7494 5040), booking to 23 December; 'The Guardsman': Albery, WC2 (020 7369 1730), booking to 25 November; 'Mademoiselle Colombe': Bridewell, EC4 (020 7936 3456), to 5 November; 'Further Than the Furthest Thing': Royal National Theatre, SE1 (020 7452 3000), to 28 October

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