Precious Little Talent, Trafalgar Studios, London

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The Independent Culture

Playwright Ella Hickson has been quietly making a name for herself, and this, her second play, smartly directed by James Dacre in the smaller of the Trafalgar studios, is a good indicator of her talent.

Even the noise of a Judy Garland song barging into a quiet monologue from the larger venue next door did little to shake the concentration of the audience; what exactly, we wanted to know, was the problem between 23-year-old graduate Joey (Olivia Hallinan, devastatingly pretty) and her ailing father, retired professor George (Ian Gelder)?

To be truthful, we were still wondering at the end of the play, but Hickson's writing is so spare and sly that you don't care; or, rather, you do, but not too much. George is mulling over the marriage that went wrong when a rival semantics academic, a Muslim, stole his wife. His 19-year-old neighbour-cum-carer, Sam (Anthony Welsh, confident and likeable), has designs on Olivia, having met her by chance on the rooftop of the Manhattan apartment building.

At first, you think the play will follow the example of David Greig's Midsummer, charting a whirlwind romance, as Sam whisks Joey on a dash to Grand Central Station. The strains of the Moonlight Sonata morph into canned music and the city lights twinkle on Lucy Osborne's clever design.

That first scene, once George has appeared, is played again from Joey's point of view, and the relationship never settles into one or the other's fixed view of it. This is original writing, and the rest of the 90-minute play develops the give and take between all three characters over the Christmas holiday, complete with the Queen's speech, a package of pink Christmas trees, and games of chess.

The acting has the requisite lightness of touch, with Gelder's old curmudgeon placing the sparring of Sam and Joey into an engaging, entertaining relief.

To 30 April (0844 871 7632)