Lovely Evening/In the Blue, Theatre 503, London

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The Independent Culture

Daniel Evans sprang to public notice in a central role in Peter Gill's play Cardiff East, at the National Theatre in 1997.

Daniel Evans sprang to public notice in a central role in Peter Gill's play Cardiff East, at the National Theatre in 1997. Since then, he has had a fairly glittering career - among other things, the title role in Candide at the National and an Olivier for Merrily We Roll Along at the Donmar. Now he repays his debt to Gill, in a season of first-time directors organised by the Young Vic and Theatre 503.

Cardiff East was a portrait of 24 hours in the life of a council estate in Cardiff, set in the present day but misted over with nostalgia for Gill's own working-class Catholic roots. Lovely Evening, which started life as a play for Radio 4 in 2001, feels like a continuation of the same project. It is an evocation of a summer evening in Cardiff in the mid-1950s: Laurence, a young clerk for the council, describes preparations for a night out. He lives in an all-male family household, overshadowed by his dead mother.

His monologue is interrupted by bursts of dialogue - with his father, rigidly smart for a church committee, and his uncle, a touch more dandified for one of his mysterious evenings out. Laurence himself is grooming for a date with a nice girl. The play follows their meeting and flirtation, her rebuffs of his sexual advances - what would he think of her afterwards? - and a stroll through the city streets and parks, before she yields to his urging.

Gill accumulates details - a collar-stud found on a mantelpiece by a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes - to create a sense of period, and particularly of the delicate negotiations perpetually being conducted between desire and respectability. Lines of Larkin popped into my head, from Annus Mirabilis, the poem that begins: "Sexual intercourse began in 1963": "Up till then there'd only been / A sort of bargaining, / A wrangle for a ring". But Lovely Evening also has an underlying thrill - the thrill of sex, and the warmer thrill of nostalgia. It is a sketch rather than a play, but its intelligence and humanity are attractive. Evans's production is properly unobtrusive, and the actors serve it well.

In the Blue, performed at the National Theatre Studio in 1985, is also about youth and sex, and the certainty about wanting someone versus the doubt about being wanted. Sensitive, middle-class Michael has brought home cocky, working-class Stewart. The play begins at the crucial point when they are about to say good night.

A series of scenarios unfolds rapidly: they part, they flirt, they get serious. We see the relationship go deeper, by turns tender, jealous, suspicious, lustful, sarcastic, quarrelsome. The swift turnover of emotions is a gift for the actors, but the characters feel stereotyped and some sub-Pinterish repetitions become tiresome.

Unlike Lovely Evening, the piece wears all its depths on its sleeve. But still, Evans has the basic director's kit; Gill must feel any debts have been paid.

To 3 April (020-7978 7040)

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