Rabbit, Trafalgar Studios, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

There are times when Nina Raine's first play, Rabbit, comes over like a cross between an upmarket Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and Patrick Marber's Closer. There are other occasions when it gives the impression of being two plays awkwardly yoked together. But watching this highly entertaining production - directed by the author with a spot-on cast - you are left in no doubt that here is a writing debut of exhilarating punch and real comic perspicacity.

In a Groucho-like London bar, PR executive Bella (excellent Charlotte Randall) is celebrating her 29th birthday with an uncomfortable assortment of former lovers and friends. It's an act of wobbly defiance because, in her own best interests, she should be at the hospital, resolving her differences with her dominant father (Hilton McRae) who is dying of a brain tumour.

Raine is sharp at capturing the irritable dissatisfaction, chippy competitiveness and sexual jealousy of smart professionals who are old enough to have several failed relationships under their belt and still young enough to resent losing the illusion of unconditional happiness.

As the wine flows, the battle of the sexes takes unexpected turns. It's the women who gossip shamelessly about the cocks and hairy bum-holes of their lovers. Men, it seems, are too proprietorial to want to share such details - an observation that leads to the notion that this caveman-instinct is the essence of romance.

Raine is fearless in the non-PC fun she has with the contradictions and double standards in male-female relations, while also suggesting that neither gender has a monopoly on sensitivity.

The boozy bickering is punctuated by flashbacks involving Bella and her father. It's precisely because (without realising it) she's such a chip off the old block that she misinterprets him and wrongly imagines that he prefers her brothers.

One of Bella's presents is a wind-chime candle-holder and Raine makes delicate, thematically apt use here of the conundrum of perception it offers: you can't tell if the little angels circling in the heat are spinning clockwise or anticlockwise, however hard you concentrate.

It's sometimes a mistake for an author to direct her own play, but here the conjunction of Raine and Raine would seem to be a match made in heaven.

To 7 October (08700 606 632)

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