365, Playhouse, Edinburgh<br/>Hedda, Gate, London<br/>Romeo and Juliet, Middle Temple Hall, London

This examination of teenage lives as they break out into the adult world is an object lesson in the creative use of the stage
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The Independent Culture

The National Theatre of Scotland's keenly awaited new production, 365, starts on a high. This is a series of off-kilter snapshots of teenagers, raised in care, all thrilled by a first taste of independence but also struggling to cope in their "practice flats" out in the big wide world.

Playwright David Harrower, artistic director Vicky Featherstone and designer Georgia McGuinness don't limit themselves to a docudrama or grungy realism in this piece which transfers, next month, from the Edinburgh festival to the Lyric Hammersmith; 365 is visually epic and sometimes surreal.

Taking on the Playhouse's chasm of a stage with an assurance that makes you hope she'll soon be invited to the National's Olivier Theatre, Featherstone conjures up a dozen interconnected lives with stark economy: with a fragment of a fitted kitchen, like a spotlit island in a sea of darkness, or two doors in parallel corridors of light as a pair of brothers argue on either side of a mortise lock.

When the youngsters receive visits from estranged parents, friends and neighbours, a sneaking sense of menace is generated with flashes of viciousness amid the chat. At a rule-breaking party, Steven Hoggett's choreography wittily blurs the line between excited adolescent body language and flicking dance moves. There's also a cranky sweetness in the shy bonding of Ben Presley's towering nervy boy, C, and Ashley Smith's J, who pops out from his top cupboard like a little imp.

The disappointment is that the narrative doesn't know where it's going, taking a twee turn in a fairytale wood then stockpiling alternative bleak and happy endings.

A free adaptation of Ibsen's tragedy, Hedda proves commendably strong too. Writer Lucy Kirkwood's transports the dangerously bored young bride, Ms Gabler, to an undecorated flat in contemporary London where pale sunlight filters through net curtains. The domestic intimacy and humour is refreshed with Tom Mison playing her adoring but nerdy husband, George. He eagerly anticipates a senior UCL lectureship before realising his rival, Adrian Bower's dissolute Eli, might steal it from him.

Actually, Mison is the real star of Carrie Cracknell's production, giving a beautifully nuanced performance with droll detailing – fooling around, flexing his biceps about the intellectual promotion. By comparison, Cara Horgan's gaunt Hedda is slightly boring: a shallow portrayal with glittering eyes but no deeply screwed-up malignity. That said, the climax of her warped jealousy, when she destroys the only copy of Eli's scholarly masterwork – gnawing into his memory stick with her canines – has a startling primal monstrousness about it.

Finally, at Middle Temple Hall, Juliet Rylance (stepdaughter of Mark) is playing her namesake in Romeo and Juliet, ambitiously presented by her own fledgling company, Theatre of Memory. The venue is to die for: a palatial Elizabethan chamber with a curvaceous hammer-beam roof and a minstrels' gallery carved with winged heavenly creatures.

But Tamara Harvey's production is an eyesore, almost embarrassing enough to make angels weep. Designer Jenny Tiramani has Montagues and Capulets modelling what I can only describe as Tyrol Bling: feathered hats, shorn-off trousers, long socks and plimsolls, all in white and studded with rhinestones. Someone should call the fashion police.

In fact, the synchronised fencing isn't bad and the prologue is winningly transformed into a kind of madrigal by Rylance's composer mother, Claire van Kampen. Ultimately too, in line with her stepfather's Globe productions, Rylance Jnr and her Romeo (Santiago Cabrera from TV drama Heroes) rise from the tomb and dance, reaffirming the life force beyond mortal tragedy.

But most of the acting is poor, with rudderless directing. Will Kemp's Mercutio is quite swish, and Cabrera handsome, but dull. As for Rylance's Juliet, she has a lovely smile but is too mellow. "Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds/ Towards Phoebus' lodging," she says, waiting for nightfall with all the urgency of an idling day on the beach. Neither of these lovers captures the heart-rending intensity of adolescent ardour or teenage suicide.



'365' at the Lyric Hammersmith, London (0870-050 0511) 8 to 27 Sep; 'Hedda' (020-7229 0706) to 27 Sep; 'Romeo and Juliet' (0845-120 7543) to 13 Sep

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