Postcards From America / Breakfast With Mugabe, Cox's Yard / Swan Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

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The Independent Culture

Less sharply focused is Brett Neveu's play Eric LaRue, which looks at the psychological fall-out of a Columbine-like high-school shooting. The inept pastoral care of the local preacher (Barnaby Kay) is of no help to the culprit's dazed mother (an excellent Lia Williams). And although the scene in which she meets the mothers of her son's victims is gruesomely well observed, it's hard to believe that the women's refusal to accept bullying as a factor in the killings would lead so directly to the over-neat ironic reversal of the play's conclusion. Driven to a crazed championing of his crime, the mother appals the remorseful son, who breaks contact with her.

Presented under the collective title Postcards from America, these pieces are lucidly directed at Cox's Yard by Dominic Cooke. Over at the Swan, the actor, artist and writer Antony Sher adds a directorial string to his bow with an incisive, powerfully acted production of Fraser Grace's piquant new play, Breakfast with Mugabe. Months before the 2002 elections in Zimbabwe, Peric (David Rintoul), a white psychiatrist and landowner, is summoned to examine President Robert Mugabe (a sinister Joseph Mydell) who, in shades of Macbeth and Banquo, is being persecuted by the malevolent spirit of Josiah Tongogara, the man who had been tipped to be the country's first leader after independence.

Confrontations between doctor and powerful patient are tense, darkly comic and, finally, tragic. There's sometimes an air of contrivance, and projection can feel over-theatrical. But on the problems of post-colonialism, Breakfast with Mugabe offers serious food for thought.

The New Work Festival ends Friday (0870 609 1110)