Cloaca, Old Vic

Spacey's outsider has as much suspense as a one-horse race
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The Independent Culture

First there's the title with its off-putting excretory associations (Cloaca is the Latin word for sewer, among other things, so this is tantamount to calling a play Enema); then there's the author (Maria Goos) who is Dutch and almost completely unknown over here; and then there's the drama itself which seems to sit up and beg to be invidiously compared with Yasmina Reza's Art.

First there's the title with its off-putting excretory associations (Cloaca is the Latin word for sewer, among other things, so this is tantamount to calling a play Enema); then there's the author (Maria Goos) who is Dutch and almost completely unknown over here; and then there's the drama itself which seems to sit up and beg to be invidiously compared with Yasmina Reza's Art.

In launching the first production of his debut season as artistic director at the Old Vic, Kevin Spacey cannot be accused of relying on a dead cert.

What emerges is a curiously underwhelming affair - a kind of portrait of the male mid-life crisis by numbers with the occasional flash of piquant female perception (as when one of the characters is described as staring at his wife's face "like a woman watching a football game") and the intermittent powerfully telling detail about the emotional limitations and betrayals in long-term male friendships.

In Art, a white-on-white modern painting was the catalyst for revealing dissensions. Here, a narrative line is achieved by the fate of a collection of modern paintings by someone called Van Goppel. A gay, idealistic council functionary, Pieter (Stephen Tompkinson), has amassed them over the years by taking them from the depot of written-off art in lieu of a present from the birthday-club kitty. But now Van Goppel has been discovered by the art world and the council wants them back (including the four Pieter has unfortunately sold).

For various, largely self-centred reasons, his three closest fortysomething college friends descend on his smart Amsterdam loft.

Spacey's production is punchily acted and nicely modulated as it moves into the darkness of the final scenes. But the central treachery that provokes the tragic denouement can be seen coming a mile off, and the birthday present of the whore has a wholly predictable outcome.

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