Some Girl(s), Gielgud, London

I'll be there for you (when I feel like it)
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The Independent Culture

America's Neil LaBute has two major premieres in London this month. Some Girl(s) depicts a guy on the brink of marriage visiting a string of jilted ex-partners, and that's followed next week by a love-triangle drama at the Donmar called This Is How It Goes.

America's Neil LaBute has two major premieres in London this month. Some Girl(s) depicts a guy on the brink of marriage visiting a string of jilted ex-partners, and that's followed next week by a love-triangle drama at the Donmar called This Is How It Goes.

These ought to have the combined impact of a double-barrelled shotgun, going by LaBute's previous bleak visions of modern callousness and cruelty. ButSome Girl(s) - which stars David Schwimmer from Friends as the unnamed Man - leaves you wondering if this dramatist is losing his visceral edge.

The fault does not, essentially, lie with David Grindley's tightly paced and tense production. Schwimmer's sitcom credentials are at once fitting and unsettling because this is a kind of edgy, dark, Don Giovanni-ish farce.

Schwimmer's chronically uncommitted character jets round the States, ticking off his list of old flames; his multiple rendezvous in near-identical hotel rooms all go hideously wrong as he keeps adding insult to injury while, purportedly, trying to atone for his past flightiness. He also hovers between making up and making out again, without telling his fiancée.

In his anonymous grey suit, Schwimmer effortlessly plays an ordinary Joe and mildly ridiculous cad, laughing gustily with a hint of nervousness and ducking awkward pauses by diving into the mini-bar. At the same time, you glean that he's a whirl of thoughtless egotism who has left a trail of lasting hurt and bitterness in his wake. And he is now having his own mid-life crisis. Just under the surface, he is a mess of anxieties, regrets and lust.

Catherine Tate proves that she is not just a top comedienne but an outstanding serious actress. Playing Sam, Schwimmer's high-school sweetheart whose wounds are still raw, Tate exudes shyness, shocked pain and then a menacing, seething sense of outrage. Sara Powell's Tyler is the seductive light relief after that: an easy-going and frisky hippy chick - though she too is more vulnerable than she seems. Third in line, Lesley Manville's Lindsay is a ferociously brusque older woman, demanding a sharply twisted form of retribution in business-like tones, but with chinks in her armour. All excellent performances.

As for the script, LaBute certainly writes terse, loaded dialogue. His vignettes of Man behaving badly and his probing of emotional scars will make almost everybody, male and female, wince with recognition. The antihero may also be a self-portrait as Schwimmer's character is a writer with a surreptitious notebook. Maybe there is an added level of complexity, too, since Schwimmer's exes all have curiously masculine or sexually ambivalent names. To boot, this is a radically questioning form of morality play. Even as Schwimmer talks of his little "pilgrim's progress", this piece exposes the selfish motivations behind saying sorry.

The trouble is Some Girl(s), rather like its male protagonist, falls short of expectations. It's a faintly disappointing tease. All the tension doesn't really lead anywhere and four juxtaposed dialogues don't amount to a great drama. The final encounter, where Schwimmer tries to reclaim Saffron Burrows' rather limp Bobbi as his long-term passion, is an anti-climax. Presumably, it's not an intentional irony that you walk away from Some Girl(s) not caring that much.

k.bassett@independent.co.uk

To 13 August. 020 7494 5065

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