Bites, The Bush, London

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The Independent Culture

Kay Adshead's career is becoming exemplary in the wrong fashion - an object lesson in how writing deteriorates when an admirable talent for political indignation directs itself against less and less specifically delineated targets.

Her award-winning play The Bogus Woman was an impassioned indictment of the warped, Kafkaesque realities of our asylum system. The nightmare vision of that piece was firmly anchored in well-researched particularities.

Her next play, Animal, asked questions about the sinister side of the psycho-pharmaceutical drugs industry and about the "chemical weapons" that could be used to pacify civil protest. But there was so little hard detail in her evocation of a dystopian England, where demonstrators are trampled to death by mounted police, that you felt that, in upping the stakes, Adshead had managed to lessen the impact.

Which brings us to Bites, her latest effort, unveiled now at the Bush Theatre in Lisa Goldman's robustly acted production. Here, the focus is on the entire planet and the effects, far and wide, of the war on terror.

In theory, it is an imaginatively daring project. In practice, it is all over the place, shifting confusedly between reality and poetic fantasy, the present and an apocalyptic future, and hopping from Afghanistan to Texas via Guantanamo Bay.

The title indicates the play's would-be culinary structure, with each episode supposedly representing a dish in a seven-course mock-feast that ranges from "Star Soup", through "Hog Roast" and "Cold Cuts", to "Jelly" and "Hundreds and Thousands". But instead of suggesting a pun, the "bites" come across as dismayingly close to "sound-bites". Rather than give us a fresh, politically rousing taste of the world's sufferings, the play - though never less than 100 per cent sincere - offers regurgitated pellets of received wisdom.

Many of the scenes - a Texan hog-roast where a Mexican waitress is accorded the same level of respect as the pig; a fantasy sequence where a starving peasant meets God in the shape of a Texan cowboy and decides to boil the boots he's given as a present for soup - settle for pretty easy targets, just like the men at the hog-roast picking off lizards.

Every subject is treated as an unchanging monolith - religious fundamentalism (bad); women (victims) etc.

For a really powerful political play, you should see Tejas Verdes at the Gate. Its savage attack on the Pinochet regime is searing because it's prepared to unsettle some of our liberal preconceptions.

To 5 February (020-7610 4224)

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