Celestina, King's Theatre, Edinburgh

Sensuality smothered by superfluous tackiness
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The Independent Culture

Each time I see a production dreamt up by the Catalan director Calixto Bieito I desperately want to like it. New experiences - interesting and innovative slants on old masterpieces, as well as new work - are what I, and probably most other festival attenders, seek.

Each time I see a production dreamt up by the Catalan director Calixto Bieito I desperately want to like it. New experiences - interesting and innovative slants on old masterpieces, as well as new work - are what I, and probably most other festival attenders, seek.

But again with Bieito, an all-too-frequent guest in Brian McMaster's festivals, I am left wondering if both men are of the patronising opinion that we all lead such sheltered lives or have so little imagination that we need Bieito's by-now trademark shock tactics to remind us that sleaze, sex, violence and degenerate behaviour exist? Bieito's latest act of savagery, on Fernando de Rojas's 15th-century work, Celestina, is played in a new translation by John Clifford. Much of the story has had to be cut, presumably to allow time for the inessential song and dance routines, tiresome patter with the audience, and the superfluous, tacky sexual encounters with which Bieito has smothered de Rojas.

The action, updated to the late 20th century, with the 1970s-style flamenco "rumba Catalana", is staged mainly in a seedy basement club, in which the bar, the band and the bawd dominate the stage. The only ray of light is a skylight at the top of a harsh central spiral staircase.

The show does have the great advantage of a brilliant central perfomance by Kathryn Hunter who, with shaved head, absurd grey suit and wielding a crutch, darts around like a goblin, greedily manipulating her pimps and prostitutes, and coldly and cunningly bringing together Calisto with Melibea for sex.

A far cry from de Rojas's sensual and celebratory text, the impression given here by the pair's eventual coupling is of a totally loveless match. After their passion is graphically spent, the coke-sniffing Melibea, played by Laura Rodgers, blankly inquires what her stud's name is. It's a remarkably unsatisfying evening.

Until 24 August, 7.30pm (Tomorrow, also 2.30pm); 0131 473 2000

Birmingham Repertory Theatre 16-25 September; 0121 236 4455

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