Six Degrees of Separation, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

4.00

Everybody on the planet is separated by only six other people, "every person a new door, opening up into other worlds". That is the premise at the heart of John Guare's play, a clever-clever exercise exploring issues of race, class, manners, morals and money.

Everybody on the planet is separated by only six other people, "every person a new door, opening up into other worlds". That is the premise at the heart of John Guare's play, a clever-clever exercise exploring issues of race, class, manners, morals and money.

Guare was also inspired by the true story of a young Afro-American impostor pretending to be Sidney Poitier's (non-existent) son, who conned his way into the apartments and lives of some of New York's elite, causing its smugly confident inhabitants to stop briefly in their supercharged tracks. Since its opening off-Broadway in 1990 and its terrific London production a couple of years later, directed by the former Royal Exchange director Phyllida Lloyd, Six Degrees has had surprisingly few major revivals.

In his assured production, his first on the Royal Exchange Theatre's main stage, Michael Buffong doesn't put a foot wrong. Fortunate in his brilliant ensemble, he draws stylish performances from a cast that is every bit as winning as the London line-up of a decade ago. (Lloyd's production starred Stockard Channing and Adrian Lester, with Channing also featuring in the subsequent film that saw a young Will Smith making his cinematic debut.)

As Paul, the plausible hoodwinker, O-T Fagbenle brims with youthful charm and charisma. He combines the type of engaging intelligence that allows him to expostulate convincingly on The Catcher in the Rye with a disquieting streak of mental instability, as he becomes unable to disassociate himself from the persona he has falsely assumed.

Lisa Eichhorn brings a touching naivete to Ouisa Kittredge, eventually grasping with both hands this unsolicited opportunity to explore a meaningful human connection. For a moment, something resembling real emotion intrudes on this ultra-chic world driven by the desire for money, fame and social standing, and at the very least a part in a mythical film of Cats. With his superb comic timing and oh-so elegant body language, Philip Bretherton is conspicuously convincing as Ouisa's wealthy Manhattan art-dealer husband, making his big-time bid.

Julian McGowan's cool white set cleverly accommodates the two-sided Kandinsky painting, reflecting on the one hand a geometric sombreness and, on the other, a vivid, colourful abandon, each contributing to the overall picture outlined in the story. Despite its sometimes irritating philosophising and tangential parallels between the six degrees theory and human behaviour, Six Degrees comes across as an enjoyable and intricately layered creation. It admits sitcom humour from the kids (each well-characterised here), aghast at their parents' gullibility, while its bigger ideas are adroitly expressed in wryly witty language punctuated by quirky turns of event.

To 8 May (0161-833 9833)

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