Play This, Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh

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The Independent Culture

There's nothing like a bit of full-frontal nudity to lure in an audience.

There's nothing like a bit of full-frontal nudity to lure in an audience. At least that, one feels, is what the patron saint of ticket sales has been whispering to the recently formed Dogtooth Theatre Company. In a Fringe programme dominated in the shock stakes by the Catalan company La Fura dels Baus's XXX, where nudity and what one does with it is only topped by a creative use of clingfilm, anything less than the whole cast bouncing around in their birthday suits is bound to seem a little tame. Even more so when the nudity is completely devoid of any dramatic purpose, aside from to elicit the requisite shocked gasp from somewhere in the back row. The immediate question that springs to mind is: what is this nudity trying to cover up?

On a set of impersonal Ikea furniture, bland posters and knick-knacks, a couple argue their way through an early evening, somewhere, one assumes, in London. The sensitive David, a reedy Tom Turner, slumps in his chair, aimlessly pushing a script that he has written around the table, instead of sending it off to an agent. Marny Godden's media queen Daisy blasts PR-speak into a phone, her ironic insults wrapped in luvvie-talk as she chats to her gay literary agent friend. "You great big poof," she teases. David tries to follow suit and succeeds only in causing offence. It's one of those sitcom set-piece moments that provokes a few laughs from the audience, although partly out of embarrassment.

But with the blast of a whistle, we suddenly realise that we are watching a play-within-a-play, ruled over by the control-freak writer-director Greg (played by the real-life writer Ezra Godden), who is just a little too precious about his own work to see the bigger picture. With his actors' nerves visibly fraying, things are going from bad to worse. Then Greg's frosty ex-girlfriend Samantha (a nicely judged performance by Annalie Wilson) turns up, clearly suffering at the sharp end of Greg's authorly pen.

It is soon clear that Samantha has left Greg for Dale, a buoyant, laissez-faire American t'ai chi fanatic (played in a light-hearted turn by Daniel Mendoza), leaving the two actors in Greg's play the manipulated offspring of Greg and Samantha's failed relationship.

It's obvious that this first play by Ezra Godden, a year out of drama school, has foundered on what he terms, "the next step in the battle of the sexes". His characterisation is two-dimensional, and the play-within- the-play is too often dull and fragmented to the detriment of any dramatic follow-through.

Where this performance is more effective, however, is in suggesting a claustrophobic atmosphere in which modern relationships, with no supporting framework, crumble into bitter recriminations in an impersonal urban landscape.

To 30 August (0131-556-6550)

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