Foxes, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds <br/> Pomegranate, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Life on the edge of society
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The Independent Culture

If you were a Zimbabwean asylum seeker and someone shoved a plastic bag through your letterbox in the night would you plunge your hands straight into it? That's what unsuspecting Eric does, to his great disgust and fury when he discovers what's been dumped on him. Racial intolerance and ignorance - as well as the breaking down of barriers - are at the heart of Alice Nutter's first play, Foxes, presented as part of the West Yorkshire Playhouse's enterprising Northern Exposure season.

Not surprisingly for a former long-time member of the famous Leeds radical band Chumbawamba, Nutter highlights the plight of people foraging for their existence on the edge of society; foxes relying on their cunning. As with humans and foxes, the lives of these impoverished white residents of Leeds and the newly arrived asylum seekers scarcely overlap and when they do - trapped by old misconceptions and fears - they interact warily and aggressively.

In Ian Brown's fast-moving production, episodic scenes chart the encounters between neighbours. Loretta, given a sterling performance by Louise Howells, finds her life enriched by falling in love with Eric. He, energetically played by David Gyasi, is one of several nationalities deposited in a drab council flat, occupying a tiny chunk of the Little London area of Leeds on a temporary basis, with fewer territorial rights than a fox.

However, Nutter too often resorts to a stereotypical portrayal of the identities she has created. Within their tidy lair, the Kurds are soon at the throat of the hated Iraqi enemy, the Eastern European is depicted as a thief, and the father-and-son Zimbabweans convey a slightly superior attitude. Next door, Loretta's teenage brother is a BNP member-in-waiting, refusing to acknowledge, far less tolerate, his sister's relationship with Eric - though with less serious consequences than Nutter could have explored.

With more emotional texture and a less naive storyline, Nutter's punchy, raw characters might have been better able to express their sense of alienation and in a more original way.

Someone munches an apple but no one so much as takes a bite from the seeded fruit of the Greek myth from which Linda Marshall-Griffiths's intriguing new production, Pomegranate, draws inspiration. For the young Persephone - dragged off to the underworld, tricked into eating six seeds of a pomegranate, and condemned to spending a dark time holed up with Hades - Marshall-Griffiths substitutes Phylis. She plays a pivotal role in this landscape, suspended somewhere between myth and reality, and thanks to Victoria Carling's strong, concentrated acting the play blossoms.

The vigour of a pomegranate tree declines if suckers and dead branches aren't removed and Phylis must rid herself of, or at least understand, past experiences weighing her down. But when she returns to her barren Welsh slate-mining home town, believing that she has been summoned by her mother, Dahud, the errors of her youthful ways appear to have been neither forgiven nor forgotten. Like Demeter, Dahud has long mourned her lost daughter but now seems unable to recognise her. Touchingly portrayed by Jennifer Piercey, Dahud - when she finally acknowledges Phylis - sternly makes her wipe away the garnet-coloured lippy staining her mouth.

Everyone is trapped in some distant grainy past so that the play's intricacies are not always easy to grasp, although the production is made more compelling by Jo Combes's solid direction and Becky Hurst's inventive set design. Like the fruit, Pomegranate needs patience and concentration for its juicy interior to be fully appreciated. But Marshall-Griffiths shows a welcome originality in her poetic drama, quirky in its perplexingly intangible flavour.

'Pomegranate' to 13 May (0161-833 9833)

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