Shows made specially for TVs

Under the Blue Sky | Royal Court, London Hedwig and the Angry Inch | Playhouse, London
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The Independent Culture

Plays that analyse modern love tend, like love, to dazzle then disillusion. Even the genre's classics - Stoppard's The Real Thing, Marber's Closer - amount, when the bedclothes settle, to less than the sum of their urbane, percipient parts.

Plays that analyse modern love tend, like love, to dazzle then disillusion. Even the genre's classics - Stoppard's The Real Thing, Marber's Closer - amount, when the bedclothes settle, to less than the sum of their urbane, percipient parts.

In Under the Blue Sky, David Eldridge , writer of the 1996 hit Serving It Up, has paired off six teachers in three scenes that fitfully dramatise crises in communication between would-be lovers. Each segment is stronger than the last, but the whole is blighted by trivial dialogue and vagueness of purpose.

In the first and weakest scene, Nicholas hosts Helen for dinner. She loves him; he's confused and is leaving the East End for a public school in Essex. They argue in circles about who's right, what's fair. But this is TV writing: the language is flat and the squabbles unenlightening. At least the subsequent couple have personalities, albeit two-dimensional ones. Lisa Palfrey pitches in a sparky turn as Michelle, a rum-guzzling "slut" who's finally returned to the bedroom of her dweeby admirer, Graham. But the pair hate themselves and each other. It's neither edifying to suffer them trade insults nor likely that they'd remain in the same room having so vehemently done so.

Eldridge seems interested in our failure to agree on what love means. To his characters, it's whatever suits at any given time - but is that, in Robert's words, an "abrogation of responsibility"? Only middle-aged Anne and Robert are capable of loving selflessly, and they are the most engaging company the play serves up.

It falls to Hedwig and the Angry Inch to offer the week's most distinctive perspective on romance. A cult "cock-rock" musical from Stateside, Hedwig recounts the mythical biography of a dreamy East German youth turned twisted transsexual cabaret artiste. Twisted? Well, wouldn't you be if, 12 months before the fall of The Wall, you'd severed your penis to escape the communist bloc? Michael Cerveris currently occupies the role created in New York, to great success, by John Cameron Mitchell. What he lacks in femininity, he makes up in conviction as Hedwig morphs from lacklustre drag act to demented punk wig-out.

Pitted with sleaze-rock belters courtesy of our hostess's surly backing band, Hedwig is a dark celebration of "all the misfits and the losers" whose extravagant dysfunctions mere pop can't accommodate. Like all good misfits, this curious show soon stops caring what anyone thinks of it, which is a very winning quality. Flawed it may be, and ill-at-ease in this West End venue, but of the American imports on offer this autumn - after Hedwig come Macaulay Culkin, Jessica Lange and Darryl Hannah - I know which I'd choose.

'Under the Blue Sky': Royal Court, SW1 (020 7565 5000) to 7 Oct; 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch': Playhouse, WC2 (020 7839 4401) to 11 Nov

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