Some Girl(s), Gielgud Theatre, London

Boyish Schwimmer's love rat would prefer to be stroked than bite
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The Independent Culture

An academic study of the chivalry shown towards women by the male characters in the work of Neil LaBute would be one of the shortest volumes in publishing history.

An academic study of the chivalry shown towards women by the male characters in the work of Neil LaBute would be one of the shortest volumes in publishing history.

The American dramatist focuses on the machinations of love rats in plays that have as much spiritual space as experiments using lab rats. So it seems an incongruous pairing - one of the stars of Friends taking the lead role in a piece by a writer whose collected dramas could go under the title "With Friends Like These ...".

But David Schwimmer, who played the likeably nerdy Ross in the über-sitcom, is not called upon to extend his range nearly as far as one might have expected in Some Girl(s), the new LaBute play that receives its world premiere in a taut production by David Grindley.

One suspects the author has softened his usual cynical approach to human affairs so as to accommodate the fact that there is something invincibly wholesome about Schwimmer. He plays an unnamed man who teaches at a college in New York and has begun to gain celebrity by writing fiction that cannibalises real-life relationships. He's also about to tie the knot with a nurse who never appears. Instead, in hotel bedrooms, we see him in a series of meetings that he has arranged with former lovers.

He claims that he wants to put right any of the wrongs he might have done these women. But for whose benefit is he going through with all of this? The appearance of a little notebook when he is on his own leads you to anticipate that he's one of those LaBute characters playing a heartless game for the sake of their art.

Two of his old flames - Catherine Tate's flustered, lower-middle-class Sam and Sara Powell's cool horny chick - have their noses rubbed in the fact that they mean less to him than the females who came before and after them in the saga of his serial bolting.

But the two final encounters partially reverse the pattern. Lesley Manville's splendidly vengeful Lindsay, turns the tables on him, threatening to contact his fiancée if he doesn't have sex with her again. Then she gives him a taste of his own humiliating medicine by stealing away before he can. Saffron Burrows's highly-strung Bobbi seems eventually to surprise him into genuine feeling.

Throughout Schwimmer remains bland, competent, and boyish - though not fatally boyish in the manner that appears to have turned these women on. He fails to convince you that our hero has the chip of ice in the heart that gives writers the ruthlessness needed to turn relationships into "material". This love rat would much rather be stroked than bite.

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