Rainbow Kiss, Royal Court Upstairs, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

The programme/play-text of Simon Farquhar's first stage work includes a treasurable author's note saying: "Rainbow Kiss was initially entitled Fuck Off. The title was changed not because of an uncharacteristic prudishness on the Royal Court's behalf, but because it was in danger of causing the play to misperceived."

It's a rum manoeuvre - to disclose the very information you fear may cause a false impression. (How else would we have known about the switch of name?) The note, though, may not be such a smart move, merely underlining how the play is a derivative throwback to the "in yer face" movement that gave us Shopping and Fucking and Fucking Games.

Premiered in a vividly acted staging by Richard Wilson, Rainbow Kiss is set in a flat in a grim Aberdeen high-rise. The tarty, half-drunk Shazza (Dawn Steele) just wants a good drug-enhanced shag when she comes back from a bar with Keith (Joe McFadden). Graphically, she gets at least some of her desires fulfilled.

He, though, is after more than a one-night-stand. A middle-class graduate, he's now losing the plot, with a dead-end job, an estranged wife in a psychiatric hospital, and anxious custody of his baby son. Oh, and on his case, there's a big and impatient moneylender (Graham McTavish) who thinks nothing of sending an axe through his door and a razor-blade down his cheek.

Farquhar has a good ear for gritty dialogue, an attractive way with bleak humour and a keen eye for the black bizarreries of dysfunctional urban life. But he can't convince you that Keith adds up to more than a contrived catalogue of woes, or that, however twisted his perceptions, he would become infatuated with the unsuitable Shazza and jealous of her relationship with a drugs dealer.

Given the grisly fate that tends to befall babies in "in yer face" plays (eaten; used for stubbing out cigarettes) and given the sadism of the moneylender, the bairn gets off lightly, left crying while Keith tries to take Shazza from behind.

There are violent and sensational twists elsewhere, though. Even his drink-ravaged, likeably disreputable neighbour Murdo (excellent Clive Russell), who provides rather set-piece comic relief with his tales of getting sacked as a store Santa and his consumer guide to the local whores, develops a serious death-wish.

I was amused to read that Rainbow Kiss (né Fuck Off) is dedicated (presumably with sincere gratitude) to "the ones who fuck us up".

To 6 May (020-7565 5000)