A Whistle in the Dark, Tricycle, London

Punched, drunk and disorderly
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The Independent Culture

When Tom Murphy's first full-length play - a strong domestic drama about brutalised Irish émigrés - hit the stage in 1961, it caused a nationalist furore and great excitement. It was, Ken Tynan exclaimed, "the most uninhibited display of violence that the London stage has ever witnessed". Today we may have been hardened by big-screen blood 'n' guts or, indeed, by revivals of old theatrical nasties (the braining scene in Marlowe's Tamburlaine clearly slipped Tynan's mind). Nonetheless, Whistle In The Dark still packs a punch.

It's impossible not to flinch at the showdown between Murphy's drunken, viciously jockeying brothers - the Carneys - as one of them slams another's head on to the living-room table and a whisky bottle smashed against a cranium explodes in smithereens. In this production, directed by Jacob Murray, the fight choreography is often so convincing you wonder if poor young Kieran Gough, playing the foolishly confrontational Des, is going to survive the night.

The scenario is like Pinter's The Homecoming, only inverted. Patrick O'Kane's Michael, the relatively mild and intelligent sibling, has escaped his macho family and settled in Coventry, marrying a local girl called Betty, only for their shabby terraced house to be colonised by his predatory brothers and long-estranged, domineering Dada. Damian O'Hare's Harry, the leader of the pack, has taken to pimping and gang warfare and the pressure to join that fray is intense.

Murphy creates scenes of potent suspense and ferocity, though I did start longing for more Pinteresque verbal economy. Mainly because Murray lets too many of his cast lapse into monotonous hollering. Gary Whelan's thunderous Dada barely conveys the old patriarch's incipient senility. However, O'Kane's sorely-tried pacifist tolerance - which you watch slowly shattering - is absorbing and O'Hare's seething anger grows ever more disturbing. Harry's bitterness is also alarmingly topical, from his Irish-on-Irish reprisals and xenophobia about Muslims to his socio-economically frustrated criminality and sardonic declaration that it's time the educated make way for the ascendancy of the thickos. Depressingly bleak.

To 6 May, 020 7328 1000