Pugilist Specialist, Soho Theatre

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The Independent Culture

The Soho Theatre is playing host to two pieces that focus, with pitch-black humour, on wanton acts of self-destruction. InPugilist Specialist, the American military deliberately botches its own covert operation to assassinate an Arab leader; Hurricane describes the ferociously self-assisted downward spiral of the former snooker champion Alex Higgins.

Pugilist Specialist, brought to us by the San Francisco-based Riot Group and the dramatist Adriano Shaplin, finds a provocative angle for its take on "the war on terror". Rather than preach a safe sermon to the converted, it holes us up with four US marines who are being briefed to take out a Saddam-like Middle Eastern leader.

They're a disparate bunch: a paternal, post-liberal colonel (Paul Schnabel); a wisecracking sniper (Shaplin); an uptight propaganda specialist (Drew Friedman) and a lone female, Lieutenant Emma Stein (Stephanie Viola), a single-minded explosives expert, distrusted by the military.

The production is stark, the scenes taut, and the exchanges crackling with bone-dry cynicism. Through the discrepant attitudes of this quartet, Shaplin offers a mordant demonstration that far from being a monolith, the American military and the political Right are bound to succumb to internal divisions as the US becomes enmeshed in its self-appointed role as globocop.

What emerges is an almost erotic compulsion to be defined in relation to the enemy. The irony here is that the losers are people like Emma Stein, old-style imperialists bent on spreading the values and principles embodied in the Constitution. She is determined to complete the operation; it's just that the operation isn't what she thinks it is. "We need the target more than we need her," purrs the Colonel. "No more targets, no more history".

The seeds of sabotage likewise sprout from within in Hurricane, a whirlwind solo performance piece written and acted by Richard Dormer. Strutting around like snooker's answer to Mick Jagger, and brandishing his cue as though it were a samurai sword, Dormer brilliantly communicates the driven, unrelenting obsessiveness of this lad from Belfast who gobsmacked the sporting establishment.

At times, it looks less like acting than a case of possession by Higgins's spirit, as we watch this slight, wiry figure hurtle into the hell of compulsive hedonism.

The collision between the game's stuffy officials and this reckless, self-hating maverick was bound to be fatal. Hurricane could have been a sentimental, cliché-ridden rags-to-riches-to-rags saga, but Dormer's energy and charisma elevate it into an electrifying tour de force of physical theatre.

To 7 February (020-7478 0100)

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