Incomplete And Random Acts Of Kindness, Royal Court

Holding out for a hero

In David Eldridge's lovely new play, one might expect the word "violence" rather than "kindness". But when you've started to lose the plot - as the protagonist, Joey, has - even generous impulses can be misconstrued or lead to nasty, unintended consequences. A kiss of consolation given to a bereaved mother may be read as taking advantage of her vulnerability. Advice to a bullied black child that maybe he should stick up for himself more may result in a fatal knifing.

The play is beautifully structured. It flits backwards and forwards in time so that we have often witnessed an effect before we encounter the probable cause. Joey (a superbly natural Shaun Dingwall) is an ordinary guy who begins to crack up after the death of his mother and his father's hasty co-habitation with her nurse. Kate, his fiancée (Kellie Bright), cannot cope with Joey's insulting and destructive response to the idea of medical help, or his worsening obsessions, and ends the relationship. His father seethes with shame.

There may be echoes of Hamlet here, but the Dane never sought to purge his sickness of soul by community work, as Joey does. It's there that he meets Trevor (an attractively understated Heshima Thompson), the black child with the problem with bullies.

Incomplete Acts uses the paradoxical but very effective strategy of offering you access to a bewildered and well-meaning soul, rather than just crib notes to a piece of cut-and-dried sociology. Sean Holmes's excellent production - which is performed with just a few chairs on a bare set of dark, glaucous hues - communicates to perfection the play's temporal fluidity and verbal echoes, and the poetic structure that leaves Joey, at the end, at four contrasting points of departure.

More violence is threatened at the Hampstead Theatre, where a small police presence stood guard on the opening night of Dennis Kelly's new play. It was thought that the mere name - Osama the Hero - might provoke unrest. But the evening passed without incident. Offstage, at any rate. Onstage, in Anthony Clark's hypnotically involving and sharply acted production, it was a different matter.

Osama is granted his titular status by Gary (the excellent Tom Brooke), a teenage schoolboy who can't bring himself to believe in any of the usual suspects when asked to prepare a presentation for his class on a contemporary hero. Instead, Gary chooses to extol the merits of Bin Laden. Osama gave away his vast personal fortune. He, himself, fought, unlike Western leaders. And despite being in one of the world's poorest regions, no one has turned him in for the $15m reward. You can see why these features of Bin Laden might appeal. But it's the features of the man that Gary doesn't bring into play that are the worry.

Unfortunately for this boy, his presentation coincides with a bout of dustbins and garages being blown up on the council estate where he lives. Before he knows where he is, Gary is taken captive in a garage and has his teeth smashed out because he won't confess to a motley gang that he is a terrorist.

Sometimes, the heightened quality of Kelly's rampantly imaginative writing rings false. Gary seems to be either slow or subtle to suit the playwright's needs; dopey one moment and capable of using words like "epiphany" the next. But the form of the play - which includes dialogue, the antiphonal intercutting of some scenes, arresting monologues, and artfully converging storylines - is always fresh and interesting, and the desire to find some particle of human hope in this mess is admirable morally, if not always well executed.

'Incomplete and Random Acts of Kindness' runs until 28 May (020-7565 5000); 'Osama the Hero' runs until 11 June (020-7722 9301)

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