On the Shore of the Wide World, NT Cottesloe, London

The fine art of soap dodging
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The Independent Culture

Stockport's grey streets are mapped out, in miniature, on the curved stage of Simon Stephens' touching new family drama, On the Shore of the Wide World. Overhead looms a pale moon and down below a teenager, Alex (Thomas Morrison), is bringing his girlfriend, Sarah, to stay at his parents' house for the first time. His dad, Peter, is mellow while his mum, Alice, admits she feels uneasy.

Stockport's grey streets are mapped out, in miniature, on the curved stage of Simon Stephens' touching new family drama, On the Shore of the Wide World. Overhead looms a pale moon and down below a teenager, Alex (Thomas Morrison), is bringing his girlfriend, Sarah, to stay at his parents' house for the first time. His dad, Peter, is mellow while his mum, Alice, admits she feels uneasy.

Meanwhile, Alex's kid-brother, Christopher (Steven Webb) - who can be a nutter - becomes smitten with Sarah and she starts flirting with Peter.

Some might regard this as soapy. Yet what's absorbing is the gentle comedy and the menace in this portrait of three generations - including David Hargreaves as a kindly grandfather with a hidden cruel streak. Flat-toned, nervous adolescent talk is also captured deftly, with Sarah (excellent Carla Henry) hovering between polite smiles and completely out-of-order questions about Peter's marriage.

Most refreshingly, none of this leads where you expect. Instead of an incestuous tangle, this play quietly turns into a tragedy about the loss of a child and the emotional devastation of that.

Sarah Frankcom's staging needs slight tweaking and Stephens introduces one naff, poetry-reciting character. However, Nicholas Gleaves' and Siobhan Finneran's grieving Peter and Alice are both poignantly subdued and fiercely angry. A rewarding transfer from Manchester's Royal Exchange. KB

To 23 August. 020 7452 3000

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