Members Only, Trafalgar Studios, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

The desire to "do a Yasmina Reza" and write a hit comedy about male friendship seems to be an affliction that few European playwrights can withstand.

In the wake of Cloaca, the deadly clone of Art, and Heroes, which regurgitated the formula in a retirement home for First World War veterans, there now comes the English premiere of Fabrice Roger-Lacan's Members Only, a two-hander about a pair of buddies and business partners who have their own architects' firm. The peppy, entertaining production by Marianne Badrichani is so deftly acted by Robert Bathurst and Nicolas Tennant that at first you are fooled into thinking that the play will prove to be a witty and perceptive study of the strains imposed on friendship and marriage by the male mid-life crisis. But then you realise that this drama is about as coherent as Bathurst's unravelling Bernard.

Set throughout in their studio office, the play opens on the evening of the latter's 40th birthday. He has discovered that his wife is springing a surprise party on him. Matters start to go haywire when the touchy Bernard finds out the reason his mate and collaborator Adrien (Nicolas Tennant) is unable to come. For years, and without telling him, Adrien has been a member of a club called the Hedgehogs, whose only rule is compulsory attendance at a dinner on the first Thursday of every month.

Cut to the next morning and it emerges that Bernard, devastated by feelings of betrayal and exclusion, failed to show up at his party and went on a private bender. From then on, we are asked to believe that he becomes a man obsessed with the need to join the Hedgehogs, to the point of being suicidally reckless about his marriage.

Unnerved by the thought of middle age, men can do wildly self-destructive things. Where the play fails to convince is that Adrien and the Hedgehog Club would be the trigger of Bernard's breakdown. The Hedgehogs sound as if they are an amicable mutual support group rather than a club whose snooty exclusiveness would wound the egos of the uninvited. Their tie, though, is a killer.

To 22 April (0870 060 6632)

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