Drunk Enough To Say I Love You, Royal Court Theatre Downstairs, London<br />Love and Money, Maria Studio, Young Vic, London<br />Amy's View, Garrick Theatre, London<br />The Lightning Play, Almeida Theatre, London<br />Waves, NT Cottesloe Theatre, London

Men behaving badly
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The Independent Culture

It's as if Blair and Bush are engaged in a love affair, or as if Britain (embodied by slim, greying Stephen Dillane) is addictively devoted to a butch US (personified by the beefcake, Ty Burrell). The protagonists in Caryl Churchill's new, barbed, two-man romance - Drunk Enough to Say I Love You, staged by James Macdonald - are called Jack and Sam. Just add "Union" and "Uncle" to see this as a satirical allegory imbued with a mournful sense of doom and a deep wariness of machismo.

In a series of glimpsed tête-à-têtes, the duo's conversations are fragmentary, rife with unfinished sentences, while they sit on a couch surrounded by darkness. Jack has left his traditional marriage to live a little more dangerously with this guy. Soon they're talking like warmongering spindoctors or sadistic fantasists. The couch floats, surreally and perilously, higher and higher off the ground as they speak of sneakily sinking enemy governments, of maybe helping Pol Pot via China or dealing, one way or another, with Chavez, Hamas, de Gaulle, Ngo Dinh Diem, the list goes on. They discuss colonizing space ("we have it, we like it and we're going to keep it"), WMD (mostly their own) and global warming too.

Dillane's Jack is thrilled by Sam's gung-ho style and the imperialist game-playing, but later he has qualms. Left on his own, Sam panics and obsesses about torture techniques, before Jack comes back to him. This is a potentially fatal attraction for the whole planet. Now, if I were a gay man, I might object to the implied comparisons. Also the distinction between fact and fiction is problematically unclear here. Consequently the piece starts sounding like a vague mass of conspiracy theories. However, this is drama, not a didactic lecture. Churchill's satirical bite is lacerating at points, and Dillane and Burrell draw out many subtleties in the relationship, including different kinds of canniness and alternating paternal/filial dynamics. Grimly thought-provoking.

Love and Money, an enthralling new play by Dennis Kelly, is surely a descendent of Caryl Churchill's satire of Thatcher-era City types, Serious Money. John Kirk's David, a businessman, sends emails to a female colleague about aggressive sales strategies and their romantic fling, before revealing a killer craving for consumer goods. His late wife - Kellie Bright's distraught shopaholic Jess - then haunts the play alongside pimps, loan sharks and her parents who speak matter-of-factly about vandalising another woman's lavish tomb.

Kelly's narrative structure, moving backwards and sideways, is odd and bold. His shifts from romcom to callous capitalist corruption to raw distress are electrifying as well. A weak production could make this script look incoherent, but Matthew Dunster's staging is brilliantly slick - with computers and hospital beds sliding from hatches in white walls. And his actors are riveting, especially Claudie Blakley as David's hilarious, chilling boss and ex-girlfriend. A superb kick-off for the rebuilt Young Vic's Maria studio.

David Hare's play, Amy's View - revived by Peter Hall - spans Thatcher's regime and the early nineties. Felicity Kendal's Esme starts out as a successful West End actress, living in a cozy, arty cottage. But she hates her daughter Amy's unfaithful husband, Ryan Kiggell's Dominic, who rises to become a swanky arts-programme presenter, claiming he is anti-elitist and theatre is dead. Esme suffers the loss of her daughter and, having lived in a financial dream world, struggles to survive as a bankrupt Lloyds investor.

The play's setting feels old-fashioned, but the fierce cultural row between Esme and Dominic has actually gained more relevance, with the remorseless dumbing-down of British culture. This is also the performance of a lifetime by Kendal, plumbing startling depths of grief in her terminal quarrel with Jenna Russell's fraught Amy.

In Charlotte Jones' spooked darkening comedy, The Lightning Play, Max's widescreen TV is dysfunctional and he hasn't just failed to connect his scart plugs. This wealthy ghost-writer (played by Matthew Marsh) and his shopaholic spouse, Harriet, do not communicate about their lost child. And now Max has a mental screw loose. They're having a Halloween drinks party, when he starts seeing a spectral infant on the TV. He becomes feverously rude and scares his guests. Anna Mackmin's cast mostly do this new play proud. Adie Allen and Katherine Parkinson, as guests, are hilariously gawky with a hint of sinister weirdness. And Lloyd Hutchinson is lovely as Max's shambling yet rock-solid friend. But Eleanor David doesn't manage to endow Harriet with convincing suicidal despair and Jones' writing is too schematic and derivative - owing much to Macbeth and Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

Lastly, Katie Mitchell's experimental adaptation of Virginia Woolf's The Waves becomes increasingly absorbing. I find the novel tiresome with its endless internal monologues, tracing the lives of six mostly hypersensitive and unhappy friends. But Mitchell's ensemble - including Anastasia Hille and Kristin Hutchinson - perform these with intensity and playfulness, as if they are recording a radio drama and simultaneously making a live, low-budget film. Furthermore, it intelligently explores Woolf's radical notion of fluid identity via theatrical means: having everyone mercurially, hectically switching roles. Worth catching.

* 'Drunk Enough to Say I Love You' (020 7565 5000) to 22 Dec; 'Love and Money' (020 7928 6363) to 16 Dec; 'Amy's View' (0870 890 1104) booking to 17 March; 'The Lightning Play'(020 7359 4404) to 6 Jan; 'Waves' (020 7452 3000) to 8 February

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