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Play of the Week: The River, Royal Court, London SW1


It's hard to see what Jez Butterworth could have done to equal the impact of Jerusalem, so it's perhaps no surprise to find him working at the opposite end of the scale in his follow-up.

Lyrical and tricksy, droll and desolating, this spellbinding three-hander unfolds like a tense cross between deeply felt poetry and sleight-of-hand puzzle. It's unveiled in Ian Rickson's exquisitely modulated production in the Royal Court's 85-seat studio space.

It begins on a moonless night, when Dominic West's Man brings his girlfriend (a combative but vulnerable Miranda Raison) to the family cabin where he has gone for the fly-fishing since he was a boy. It emerges that he has a compulsion to give women the illusion of specialness.

By a device of alternation, the play becomes haunted by echoes of previous "once-in-a-lifetime" visits. West turns in a marvellously enigmatic performance in a hypnotic play that nags at the mind long afterwards.

020 7565 5000; royalcourttheatre.com; to 17 November