Oleanna, Garrick, London<br/>Uncle Varick, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh<br/>Cyrano de Bergerac, NT Olivier, London

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It's over 10 years since Oleanna first drove couples to have shouting matches in theatre foyers. And David Mamet's nightmarish college campus tragedy - about a male teacher accused of abusing his position by a female student - seems even stronger now than at the Royal Court in 1993. This West End revival has two rising Hollywood stars, Julia Stiles and Aaron Eckhart, electrifyingly proving their worth.

I recall wondering after the Court's premiere, starring Lia Williams and David Suchet, why anyone would side with Mamet's monstrous militant feminist, Carol, who warps everything her tutor, John, says. In Lindsay Posner's new production, the play feels rather more balanced in its sympathies. Eckhart's John being young and hunky ups the sexual tension during the first tête-à-tête in his office as he tries to bond with his bewildered, failing pupil by talking informally. At the same time, he manages to be infuriating, bullishly interrupting Stiles's Carol with an eagerness to instruct that speaks volumes about his hypocritical presumption of superiority.

Mamet's two-hander is a satire of American academics' jargon and politically correct cant. His dialogue - a volley of incomplete sentences - is also fascinatingly poetic and a disturbing study of real non-communication. A sense of ghastly black comedy lurks beneath the misunderstandings and the set's narrowing space hints at serious menace.

Stiles's mix of tearful vulnerability and increasingly articulate rage ensures this is a moral problem play that's genuinely debatable. Her outraged tone is slightly monotonous, and the production's intensity is undermined by two intervals. But the conflict is viscerally shocking, and Oleanna has, arguably, become more relevant over the past decade as PC rules have spread through British institutions.

In Uncle Varick, John Byrne's enjoyable new version of Uncle Vanya, the patriarchal intellectual is renamed Sheridan and his wife is called Elaine. Domestic frustrations and thwarted love in pre-Revolutionary provincial Russia are translated to a Scottish country estate in the mid-1960s, another era of incipient social unrest.

This isn't the first adaptation to take Chekhov north of the border, but Byrne's transition is rather cleverly done. The old housekeeper, Kay Gallie's spry Kirsty, has set out tea in a birchwood glade and is sitting in an old tweed waistcoat which suggests Europe's peasantry lingering on. At the same time, the Sixties' folk revival is a feature and "Norwegian Wood" is played on a squeeze box. The local GP, Richard Dillane's Michael, is kicking his heels in a tweed suit, getting worked up about the damaging deforestation being carried out for grouse hunters, while Brian Cox's Varick stomps round in clogs, bitterly regretting his life spent farming to support his brother-in-law's glittering career as - pah! - a pontificating arts journalist.

One could nitpick. The humour often seems broader than Chekhov's, but perhaps Cox running amok with a chainsaw isn't so far off Vanya's shooting spree. Byrne sometimes extends Varick's rants excessively, but the Scottish idiom is a delight. The Lyceum's artistic director Mark Thomson could also sharpen up his production. The scene changes (with set design by Byrne) involve such shunting of trees that Birnam Wood appears to be on the move again. The emotional temperature is too low as well. But Dillane is magnetic and Cox and his niece, Madeleine Worrall's Shona, are very touching, left with no one to cling to but each other.

Now, surely, Cyrano de Bergerac could never fall flat on his face. Firstly, there's the enormous conk that adorns Edmond Rostand's hero. Secondly, he is panache personified with flashing blade and rapier wit. Thirdly, the play is spiked with tragic poignancy and operates on multiple levels as Cyrano woos his adored Roxane on another's behalf, and she believes his beautiful words issue from the drop-dead-gorgeous soldier, Christian.

Against all the odds, Howard Davies' new production - with Stephen Rea in the title role - is theatrically flat as a pancake, the first major flop of Nicholas Hytner's artistic directorship. The scaffolding set is irredeemably ugly and makes the romantic balcony scene in Paris ludicrous. "The adorable trembling of your hand/ Shivers the jasmine branches where I stand," says Rea's Cyrano, clutching at a steel pipe. Claire Price's Roxane smiles sweetly, possibly through gritted teeth.

If only the acting was scintillating, but Zubin Varla cuts no dash as Christian and Rea is dour. Derek Mahon's new verse adaptation is crude and a tiresome historical mishmash. The choreographer Christopher Bruce's effete balletic routine, representing the horrors of war, is even more toe-curling. Question, yelled by a nose-mocking minor character: "Hey, Cyrano, what's that frightful stink?" Answer: This lousy production.

'Oleanna': Garrick, London WC2 (020 7494 5085), to 17 July; 'Uncle Varick': Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh (0131 248 4848), to 8 May; 'Cyrano de Bergerac': NT Olivier, London SE1 (020 7452 3000), to 24 June

k.bassett@independent.co.uk

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