Fuddy Meers, Arts Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

David Lindsay-Abaire's off-Broadway hit Fuddy Meers does not waste time tantalising you with the prospect that it might be any good. It focuses on a woman who is suffering from a strange form of amnesia. Every day she wakes up as a blank slate, wiped clean of any sense of prior identity.

David Lindsay-Abaire's off-Broadway hit Fuddy Meers does not waste time tantalising you with the prospect that it might be any good. It focuses on a woman who is suffering from a strange form of amnesia. Every day she wakes up as a blank slate, wiped clean of any sense of prior identity.

In the opening moments of Angus Jackson's strenuously upbeat production, we see Claire jerked into consciousness by an alarm clock. She doesn't think to switch it off and the noise goes on and on and, hey, we're evidently to assume that this broad has forgotten the entire concept of alarm clocks and wake-up calls. Which is odd, given that when the man who says he is her husband emerges with a cup of coffee, she has hardly any problem coping with the idea of "cup" or "coffee" or the handling of same.

Despite a very game performance from Katie Finneran, Claire is not a character we are invited to construe with any care. Hers is, after all, a deeply distressing and disorienting plight. As constructed by this dramatist, she is upset only to a degree that is consistent with her function as a synaptically challenged variant of the ditzy, dumb blonde.

There's certainly much dramatic potential in a situation that leaves the heroine at the mercy of a posse of pretenders who claim to be her nearest and dearest. A playwright could have a field day with an explosion of competing versions of reality. But Lindsay-Abaire blows it by trying too hard.

The ads claim that the piece puts the "fun in dysfunctional", but everything is so shrilly wacky that it ends up merely putting the "sub" in "insubstantial". Claire, for example, is a positive magnet for misfits. There's a half-blind, half-deaf guy (Tim Hopper) who says he is her brother. There's a stroke-impaired slattern (Julia McKenzie), who talks in odiously audience-friendly stroke-speak and may or may not be her mother. And there's a weirdo (Matthew Lillard) who can only communicate what may be truths through a foul-mouthed glove puppet.

The comedy ignites in one odd sequence, largely thanks to Nicholas Le Prevost, playing a hilarious criminal recidivist who would love to go straight but whose life "shows ya that stability is a fragile figurine", and John Gallagher Jnr as his alleged son. The scenes where they dem-entedly drive away with a kidnapped female cop are a high point.

The play fatally lacks the kind of integrity exhibited in Christopher Nolan's movie Memento, where theme and style are brilliantly fused. Fuddy Meers illustrates an amnesia which makes British producers forget that what works off-Broadway does not necessarily tickle the funny bone of London theatregoers. This piece is co-produced by SCAMP, Sam Mendes's new independent film and theatre production company. It is not an auspicious beginning.

Booking to 28 August

(020-7836 3334)

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