Some Voices, Young Vic Studio, London

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The Independent Culture

Ray is a former inmate of a mental institution. While socialising with Ives, another ex-inmate, Ray provides enough beer to loosen even further the elderly Ives's already slack connection to reality. Pete, Ray's brother, comes home to find him banging on the kitchen table, bawling old songs, and shouting nonsense. Pete tells Ray he can't take this. Ray assures him: "You'll get used to it."

Joe Penhall's first play, Some Voices (1994), shows a society in which we have all pretty much been told to get used to the insanity around us, in which our government, after spending millions trying nicely to persuade criminal drunks to mend their ways, has now taken the hardly radical step of raising the price of beer a penny a pint. Penhall - who went on to write Blue/Orange - sets Some Voices in a formerly stable working-class neighbourhood now largely given over to those who seek quick self-gratification at others' expense. Besides Ray (Tom Brooke), who, released from Pete's care, refuses to take his tranquillisers ("He's worried I might accidentally enjoy myself"), there is Dave (Louis Dempsey), a thief who beats his pregnant girlfriend, and Laura, who endures Dave's rages for fear of being alone. She happily looks forward to the birth, because a baby "wouldn't hurt me, and it wouldn't upset me. It would love me."

If my response to Some Voices is more moral than aesthetic, that does not mean the play lacks aesthetic qualities. The dialogue is often sensitive and clever, although at times is too clever for the characters. Laura, teasing Ray (she becomes involved with him without realising he is a schizophrenic), says: "The lights are on, but there's nobody in." He replies: "No, not even squatters."

But it has an uncertain quality in Matthew Dunster's production. While the set conveys the similarity of home, street, and hospital, the awkward scene changes undermine it.

Perhaps my judgment is affected by discontent with what I feel is the sentimentalisation of Laura and Ray. This material needed to be nastier or more blackly comic. None of the semi-normal characters engaged me so much as the disruptive Ives (an excellently emphatic yet restrained performance from Roger Frost), who wraps himself in a blanket and announces the coming, deserved destruction of the world: "The blossoms on the trees are going to burn in hell!" The least interesting one is the compassionate, industrious, long-suffering Pete, which seems rather unfair. There are a few hints of a darker side, but these are not explored.

Tom Brooke seems to be reciting, rather than acting, for much of the first half of the play, but Dorothy Duffy, in the part of Laura, gives the character a warmth and charm out of proportion to her solipsism. What a choice of boyfriends the poor girl has - a psychopath and a schizophrenic! This brutal twist to the middle-class woman's complaint about the lack of suitable men deserves a more complex treatment than it gets here.

To 3 April (020-7928 6363)