Fragments, Maria Studio, Young Vic, London<br/>The Member of the Wedding, Main House, Young Vicondon

A gurner's guide to Samuel Beckett
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The Independent Culture

Peter Brook has long upheld that less is more. So he and the minimalist Samuel Beckett should be perfect partners. Brook's latest touring production, Fragments, is a handful of Beckett's shorts performed on a black stage edged by strips of light, lasting under an hour in total.

That said, some theatre goers may cry "Enough already!" so soon after the Barbican and Dublin Gate's 2006 Beckett Centenary Festival. Fragments doesn't get off to a great start, either. There is just too much gurning and childishly jovial clowning from Jos Houben and Marcello Magni as they play the spasmodically bonding beggars in "Rough for Theatre I", and the nameless mimes, A and B, who repeat life's relentless cycle of dressing, eating, labouring and climbing back into their sacks in "Act Without Words II". Perhaps the spry octogenarian Brook doesn't fundamentally share Beckett's bleak view of existence. The small adjustments he makes to the playwright's stage directions tend to add hope and subtract extra layers of meaning.

Still, Houben is hilarious, dusting down his rear end with his toothbrush and a flourish. Moreover, Kathryn Hunter is poignant and mesmerising as the lonely decrepit soul in "Rockaby". She looks, hauntingly, like a wizened little girl as she tilts her (here non-rocking) chair back and forth, with a hint of dying sensual ecstasy.

Over in the main house, The Member of the Wedding proves to be a small, forgotten gem from 1940s America, admirably revived by Matthew Dunster. Set in a small Southern town, Carson McCullers' autobiographically informed domestic drama centres, at first, on the adolescent Frankie (diminutive Flora Spencer-Longhurst). A lonesome, hyperactive and latently bisexual tomboy, she obsessively talks about running away with her adored big brother and his fiancée. That story thread is slow to develop but, meanwhile, what emerges is a startlingly sharp exposure of ingrained racism and rising African-American anger, combined with a beautifully warm and touching portrait of the long-suffering black housemaid, Berenice. The US actress known simply as Portia will, surely, be up for an award for her performance as this wonderful, salt-of-the-earth woman who is tragically and casually forgotten, like Firs in The Cherry Orchard.

'Fragments' (020 7922 6363) to 6 October and touring; 'The Member of the Wedding' (020 7922 6363) to 20 October

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