On The Third Day, New Ambassadors Theatre, London<img src="http://www.independent.co.uk/template/ver/gfx/twostar.gif" height="1" width="1"/><img src="http://www.independent.co.uk/template/ver/gfx/twostar.gif" height="10" width="47"/>

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The Independent Culture

It's hard because of all the ballyhoo, but let's try to forget for a moment that On the Third Day, by 51-year-old Kate Betts, is the winning entry in The Play's The Thing, Channel 4's X Factor for dramatists. Let's endeavour to block out the television cameras at the press night and imagine how one might react to the play if one didn't know that it was the last surviving guinea pig in this very particular experiment. Then one can address the question of whether the experiment was well-conceived.

I think that I would have wondered why such a talented cast and such excellent production values had been lavished on a drama of which I couldn't really believe a word, even while recognising the sincerity of the writing. The play focuses on Claire (Maxine Peake), a mixed-up, self-harming woman who is about to hit 30 and, desperate to lose her virginity and take control of her life, picks up Mike (Paul Hilton), a sanitary inspector who claims to be Jesus Christ. Orphaned while they were children, Claire and her now-estranged younger brother, Robbie (Tom McKay), had been in a semi-incestuous relationship. This has arrested their experience as adults. Mike/Jesus attempts to reconcile them.

The production, directed by Robert Delamere, spans the outermost reaches of the heavens and the biological depths of the Earth because Claire and Robbie seem to have escaped each others' embrace for careers at the opposite ends of the time/space spectrum.

But as with the Jesus-figure catalyst and the structural nods to death-and-resurrection, you feel an awkward disproportion between this purported amplitude and the actual emotional dimensions of the play. I understand the frustration of the West End producer Sonia Friedman at the difficulty of initiating new work in the fleshpots of the unsubsidised sector. What I don't comprehend is what she thought she would prove by collaborating with reality TV. From the point of view of finding new talent, it would have better to spend the money on a mini-festival at the Bush or the Gate. But that would not have been invidious enough to suit television, which will never be theatre's route to rescue.

To 2 September (0870 060 6627). A version of this review has already appeared in some editions

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