Lobby Hero, Donmar Warehouse, London; <br></br>Bedroom Farce, Aldwych, London; <br></br>The Inland Sea, Wilton's Music Hall, London

For a graveyard shift, there sure is an awful lot going on
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The Independent Culture

In this week's line-up, potentially romantic couples are to be spied downstairs, upstairs and, lastly, in the great outdoors. Whatever the setting, they're all destined to hit rocky patches and their bumpy rides mostly make entertaining viewing – with some sharp criticisms of social mores en route. Starting on street level, we have Kenneth Lonergan's serio-comic Lobby Hero, which forms an impressive double whammy with the US writer's West End premiere, This Is Our Youth (now in its second month at the Garrick). Our lowly hero at the Donmar is Jeff (David Tennant), a security guard on the graveyard shift. He's kicking his heels in the foyer of a Manhattan high-rise, snoozing, spinning his chair with boredom, and desperately trying to chat up Dawn (Charlotte Randle). She's the trainee cop whose superior, Bill (Dominic Rowan), regularly nips into the apartment block on their rounds.

Jeff's casual, compulsive joking will be his downfall according to his officious manager, William (Gary McDonald). But in fact, we discover, everybody is a liability. Behind fronts of professionalism, William, Dawn and Bill are embroiled in compromising affairs, perjury, harassment, vicious survival tactics and betrayals of trust.

Lonergan has a terrific ear for funny and psychologically revealing chat, and here – as in This Is Our Youth – laughs warmly at flailing suitors and cocky guys. Lobby Hero is the more mature, politically engaged play, developing into a heated ethical debate. Lonergan's anxieties about institutionalised corruption, lies, and personal interests versus civic duties are also emerging as running themes in the Donmar's American Imports season.

That said, this production doesn't quite have the charming spark of This Is Our Youth. Its firmer narrative structure feels just slightly stolid. Or maybe Mark Brokaw's British cast are only 99 per cent at ease playing Americans: vocally, McDonald's fast-talking William needs more subtle variations in volume and intonation. But these are cavils. Rowan's smug Bill has a chilling glint in his eye. Randle's wounded naivety hardens into fierce canniness. And Tennant's Jeff – in a beautifully detailed performance – is delightfully funny, well-meaning and a walking disaster.

We relocate to under the eaves in suburban England for the West End revival of Alan Ayckbourn's Bedroom Farce, featuring Richard Briers and June Whitfield. Written and set in the 1970s, this triptych-style sitcom juggles four couples in three simultaneously visible bedrooms during one increasingly tetchy night. Domestic strife is spread by quarrelsome Trevor and Susannah who first-off wreck Malcolm and Kate's housewarming party. Trev then blithely fetches up at the house of his ex-girlfriend, Jan, where her new partner, Nick, is stuck on his back with a slipped disc. Meanwhile, dim Susannah wakes up her startled in-laws, demands an explicit girls' talk with Whitfield's prim Delia, and merrily banishes Briers' Ernest to the festering spare room.

It must be said, Bedroom Farce is little more than a piece of fluff and it failed to tickle me at first. Lez Brotherston's stage design looks bland and unenticingly dated with its full moon over a sliver of roof and pink velour upholstery. Ayckbourn has played more ingenious games with time and space and his best works accrue more poignancy.

On the other hand, rather than churning out the libidinous romp you'd expect from the title, Ayckbourn satirises selfishness and broaches the subject of women's sexual dissatisfaction. Loveday Ingram's production includes too many exaggerated tics but grows increasingly hilarious and endearing. Jasper Britton's wannabe macho Malcolm is really cryingly funny when – furious but unmanned by cramp – he's reduced to skidding around in flailing circles like Quasimodo on roller skates. Whitfield and Briers really prove themselves consummate comedy veterans, too. She's terrifically understated: abstemiously polite when clearly appalled.

Briers, meanwhile, is thoroughly enjoying himself, twinkling with humour even as he works himself into huffs, snapping like a terrier. Tucked up together in bed, appreciatively munching pilchards on toast, they are also heart-warming oldsters, still relishing life's little pleasures.

By contrast, I'd advise running a mile from The Inland Sea. Naomi Wallace has won multiple awards including an Obie for One Flea Spare, her previous period drama about the Great Plague. Moreover, this new work sounds like an enticing variation on Stoppard's Arcadia. Directed by Dominic Dromgoole for Oxford Stage Company, it's about lovers and uprising labourers in an 18th-century landscape garden.

Capability Brown entrusts his younger sibling, Asquith – a fictional figure – with the task of transforming a Yorkshire nobleman's park. Asquith's workforce dig up the formal parterres and begin to create a sinuous lake, new hills and woods planted with exotic saplings from Virginia. Bridging a class divide, Asquith (Michael Gould) also woos a young peasant woman called Hesp, seeding the idea that both their lives will be revolutionised by tender, loving care.

Regrettably, this all ends in a nasty incident involving Asquith's sluice gates. What's really appalling is how this American-born writer's talents – nurtured by Dromgoole during his era at the Bush – have gone to seed. Scrappy scenes blow by, like so much tumbleweed. Wallace's grand themes bear little fruit. Lowly characters are, almost insultingly, obliged by our author to spout quite unnatural and poetically strained speeches. Oh, for a pair of pruning shears.

Dromgoole's production needs further cultivation, too. In the not-so-great outdoors, parterres are wobbly sheets of ill-painted ply. Several of the cast's performances are equally flat and wooden, but Jo McInnes makes a splendidly sturdy, ardent Hesp. Tricia Kelly as her earthy, sorrowful mother and Kate Duchene as the brisk but humane gentlewoman, Simone offer strong support. Almost everyone else, I'm afraid, makes you want to sling mud.


'Lobby Hero': Donmar Warehouse, London WC2 (020 7369 1732), to 4 May; 'Bedroom Farce': Aldwych, London WC2 (020 7416 6003), booking to 29 June; 'The Inland Sea': Wilton's Music Hall, London E1 (020 7836 9712), to 28 April