Carver, Arcola, London

Short stories, simply told - Carver lives on in Dalston
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The Independent Culture

His admirable cast step, without batting an eyelid, between narrating and acting out these tales about discontented lives and odd, ambiguous little epiphanies in suburban America. Anything tricky they simply mime. The cat who drags in a mouse and devours it under the coffee table at a superficially friendly party is, being imagined, all the more monstrous and symbolic. The open-plan set (designed by Jon Bausor) in this low, wide warehouse space is subtly claustrophobic, encircled by a snaking, luminous green line. At the same time, it creates a sense of desolate, sprawling distances between people. So in What's In Alaska - where two adulterous West Coast couples lounge around on sofas centre-stage getting comically stoned (but secretly festering) - Melisande Cook's Mary is initially seen alone, in a kitchen in a far-off corner, staring into the sink. The whole piece is beautifully judged, with the vacuous chat about snacks and the women's giggles becoming irresistibly funny - but also menacing and bleak.

Carver's pieces about authors and budding artists are rather too self-conscious. The evening does tail off disappointingly, as well. In the final story, Intimacy, Jack Klaff has little to do but gaze and then abjectly genuflect, playing a virtually mute and seemingly repentant writer who's harangued by his ex-wife (Kathryn Pogson) in a wearisome, one-way conversation.

Klaff is more mesmerising in Cathedral, playing a sonorous blind man who, for better or worse, insinuates his way into Rosemary McHale's and Bruce Alexander's souring marriage. Also, when a young husband and wife blithely visit an elderly couple whose house they once rented (in Put Yourself In My Shoes), the Christmas hospitalities rapidly turn into a truly nightmarish farce as the oldsters (Alexander and McHale again) slowly work themselves up into a poisonous fury.

Once again the Arcola, run by the pioneering Mehmet Ergen, proves itself a buzzing hive of fine work off the beaten track.

To 6 August, 020 7503 1646

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