A Whistle In The Dark, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Anyone celebrating around St Patrick's Day in Manchester's Irish "Fleadh" can forget the craic, green hats and pints of Guinness if they venture to Tom Murphy's relentlessly explosive A Whistle in the Dark.

The director Jacob Murray's best work at this venue has, until now, been in the Studio, where he's shown himself adept at creating edgy dramas of big ideas. Now, with Murphy's first full-length play, written in 1959 when he was 24, Murray makes the main space vibrate with the tension of a thriller powered by disastrous family relationships and bruising encounters.

The excellent Patrick O'Kane captures the poised equanimity of Michael, the clever son who migrated to England and carved out his own life. His loathing of his turbulent past, and his stoic misery as it catches up with him, become slightly wearing: "Cut and run," you want to shout as the Carney family fists lash out again.

Esther Hall plays his wife, pluckily trying to stand her ground in the face of a self-destructive family at war. Her husband's residual fear of his pathetic, bullying father, his inability to recognise the futility of his sibling loyalty and his reluctance to choose between his marriage and the madness of his feckless brothers lead to the final tragic twist in a tale of rivalry and feuds.

Damian O'Hare makes a chillingly callous pimping crook and, like the rest of the solid cast - including a leprechaun-like Mush wryly played by Fergal McElherron - seems to have been frozen in a state of perpetual pig-ignorance and prejudice. Gary Whelan makes a deeply unlikeable, bragging Dada, whose pride as his youngest boy Des becomes blooded in battle reveals the most sickening strand of the futile lie he likes to call life.

A Whistle in the Dark was at first turned down by the Abbey Theatre in Dublin because it didn't convey Irish characters in a positive light - a flimsy reason, given that the Irish themselves had become masterly at doing just that. When it was taken up in England instead, Kenneth Tynan described it as "the most uninhibited display of violence that the London stage has ever witnessed".

We've become more hardened to displays of unrestrained physical force in the theatre since then, and such moments here, nasty and brutish though they are, are mercifully short.

To 25 March (0161-833 9833); then at Tricycle Theatre, London NW6 (020-7328 1000), 29 March to 6 May

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