Nightingale and Chase, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

Far too close for comfort
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The Independent Culture

Sitting in a darkened room no larger than a generously sized shoe box, knees butting against the set, and with just a narrow slit for an exit, may not be the claustrophobe's idea of the perfect night out at the theatre, but this deliberately reduced studio space at the Citizens gives a pressing immediacy to Zinnie Harris's gloomy tale of the recently released jailbird Chase and her partner, Nightingale.

Nightingale starts by recounting the ill-fated night that his "wife", Chase, was released from prison, while she lies prone on Gregory Smith's sliver of a set, staring blankly into nothingness. Chase had been playing cynical games with the other inmates as they had been conjuring up the perfect reception that they would get from their lovers when they stepped blinkingly out of the prison's doors - flowers, a limousine, champagne. But Nightingale was late and, worse still, denies it, sending the couple into a relentlessly deteriorating emotional spin to which there can be only one outcome.

Lewis Howden is a volatile, repressed thug of a Nightingale, whose drab exterior - the desperately normal businessman - hides a traumatised obsessive who wants the stability that his parents' relationship never gave him. It is nothing less than frightening to watch his soft face creasing into a grimace, close-up, as he presents his apologia for an evening that ends with Chase running out into the street with blood running down her face. But there's something just a little too rational in Howden's Nightingale, which makes his paranoiac fantasies sound a little off-key.

There are also too many contradictions of character thrown up and then not addressed in this initial monologue, which creates a growing suspicion that one is listening to an account too real to really probe into the issues. One is left weighing up whether one actually wants to hear Chase's side of the story, and it is difficult to answer in the affirmative. But Lesley Hart does a fantastic job of pulling back interest, her edgy, fractious Chase running on nothing but love for her absent son Scott, as she bolts from the confines of one institution to another, via the limits of her own home, a live-wire of curbed energy.

This odd couple are bound to each other, he by an obsessive need to look after her, she by a desperate need to be looked after. One can't help but feel that this relationship is a scab that ought to be left to heal, rather than relentlessly picked at.

It's not an easy watch, this - domestic abuse, disillusionment, desperation. The director, Guy Hollands, delivers a dark, almost hope-free tale of contempt and familiarity, of miscommunication and non-communication. At its best, it is a rough, vivid picture of the painful mental adjustments made by those who are locked up and those who remain on the outside. To that, add parental dysfunction, domestic abuse and mental trauma, and you have a piece that avoids a neatly bracketed treatment of the subject. And that is why it is all the more disappointing that the form lets Harris's work down. The monologues are flatly interwoven, without sufficient disparity to drive the narrative, and the lack of physical contact between the actors is achingly predictable.

But even that cannot hide the depressingly inevitable truth towards which Nightingale and Chase are groping. Once you've been institutionalised, once you're in the system, you very rarely get out.

To 28 February (0141-429 0022)