Blood, Royal Court, London

Not a hit, but a myth
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Trying to update the Oedipus myth to comment on current concerns has a big built-in snag. The characters in the Greek tragedy did not, after all, have their own precedent as a dire warning, whereas those who come after have only themselves to blame if they will insist on fooling around with handsome youths who just happen to be the same age as their long-lost sons.

Trying to update the Oedipus myth to comment on current concerns has a big built-in snag. The characters in the Greek tragedy did not, after all, have their own precedent as a dire warning, whereas those who come after have only themselves to blame if they will insist on fooling around with handsome youths who just happen to be the same age as their long-lost sons.

That doesn't matter so much if the spin-off play is a deliberately outrageous spoof, such as Guiseppe Manfridi's Cuckoos (recently directed by Peter Hall), in which the terrible facts are brought to light when the unwitting mother and son get stuck during an act of anal intercourse and have to call for the help of a gynaecologist. But the insertion (so to speak) of an Oedipus figure into a piece with pretensions to seriousness and political insight can leave the proceedings looking risibly implausible and portentous - particularly if the characters pop to a performance of Oedipus Rex and remain impervious to its glaring personal relevance. As an illustration of these drawbacks, Blood, an idiotic hunk of highbrow hokum by the Swedish dramatist Lars Norén, could scarcely be improved on.

A lengthy opening scene introduces us to a Chilean couple, now political exiles in Paris, whose little boy vanished from their lives when they were imprisoned and tortured by Pinochet's military junta. There are crosscuts between a TV studio where Rosa (Francesca Annis), a journalist, is being interviewed on an achingly fashionable arts programme about her new autobiographical novel, and the couple's apartment where her psychoanalyst husband Eric (Nicholas le Prevost) is picking up phone messages from his patients.

The dialogue may be stilted and the dramaturgy clunking, but at this stage there is still hope that the play will develop into a penetrating study of refugee psychology (in Rosa's comparison, they are like the shadows accidentally left in Stalinist photographs after the figures themselves have been erased) and a portrait of a marriage that perhaps would not have lasted if there had not been the terrible bond of the lost child. When we gather from one of the messages that Eric has a young male lover (an ex-patient who is worried about Aids to boot), faint alarm bells ring, but you tell yourself not to be so cynical - a play chosen by the Royal Court can't possibly be taking us down that route.

Well, this is a case where faith goes unrewarded. It's not just the aforementioned theatre trip to see Sophocles' prequel. No, short of brandishing the results of a DNA test, it's hard to see how Luca (sexily played by Tom Hardy) could rouse stronger suspicions. Unable to remember his infancy or his biological parents after the trauma of imprisonment and abuse, he even has a damaged foot, just like... oh, I can't go on.

Strangely drawn to the boy herself, Rosa is soon having sex with him over at his place. They are interrupted by Eric, which leads to revelations, a bloodbath, and another ghastly arts programme - this time floating the spurious speculation that the modern world is doomed to re-enact Greek tragic patterns. "The whole of South America is one colossal Oedipal tragedy," claims Luca unconvincingly.

Like those shoddy dramas that hitch a lift on the Holocaust, Blood comes across as exploitative of human suffering - not least in the scene where we see how the couple's Chilean ordeal has warped their sex life into role-play between torturer and victim. There were moments when I felt sure that the piece was going to be revealed as a stunt - a test by the Royal Court that the bullshit-detectors of its audience are still in working order. As it is, the most impressive feature of the evening is the heroic way Ms Annis and Mr Le Prevost manage to keep a straight face.

To 25 October (020-7565 5000)

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