Stovepipe, West 12 Shopping Centre, London
Over There, Royal Court Downstairs, London
Berlin Hanover Express, Hampstead, London

Brothers in arms compellingly recreate life in Iraq, but Mark Ravenhill's fraternal play is puerile

Planning some retail therapy? Think again. If you wander into the West 12 shopping mall in Shepherd's Bush, you may be surprised to find yourself directed down into its vast concrete basement. In this normally deserted space, a compelling promenade piece called Stovepipe unfolds, by the young dramatist Adam Brace.

Audience members are initially treated like business conference delegates, visiting the Middle East. "Welcome to Project Rebuild Iraq!" chirp the smart-suited reps, handing out security passes and ushering everyone towards a specially created lecture hall and exhibition space – where promotional videos envisage sparkly new cities springing from the rubble.

Next thing you know, sirens are wailing and the keynote speaker, André – who runs a military security firm – is hurled to the ground by his armed bodyguard, Shaun Dooley's Alan. From here we vault backwards in time to see Alan joining André's private corps along with his ex-British Army mates, Grif and Eddy. One of them gets firebombed in an ill-equipped convoy and the other goes Awol, or may have been kidnapped. Alan attempts to track him down.

Staged with imaginative daring by Michael Longhurst, a director who will surely go far, Stovepipe is like Gregory Burke's Black Watch crossed with the epic theatrical installations of Punchdrunk. The basement is a maze: a hotel bedroom behind drapes suddenly opens into an airy atrium, then jostling streets, a shadowy building site patrolled by yelling guards, hushed HQ offices and a funeral chapel. Sound effects (by Steve Mayo) snap the mood between calm and panic: a muezzin's mellifluous call to prayer; a frenzied revving of engines and helicopter blades.

Brace will, doubtless, be headhunted to write for TV and the big screen, though the narrative structuring here has experimental adventurousness. The dialogue is exhilaratingly convincing, inspired and informed by Brace's interviews with private military company employees in the Middle East. There's a disturbing ring of truth about the two jumpy guards who shoot a curfew-breaking local and, on finding only fizzing soda cans stuffed inside his coat, conduct the cola-taste test – either callously or in a state of shock.

Granted, the evening gets off to a slightly slow start but it soon becomes gripping. The cast take multiple roles, changing accents and costumes at speed, and what comes across strongly is the ex-servicemen's anger at raw deals they've felt compelled to accept.

Dooley's Alan exudes burly steadiness, and brooding rage. Niall MacGregor shines as the laddish Scot, Eddy, drunkenly larking but with flaring bitterness. Sargon Yelda charms as long-suffering translator Saad, who teasingly feigns to admire Mr Bean films and resists André's coldly domineering wife (Eleanor Matsuura).

All in all, a highly impressive transfer from Suffolk's talent-nurturing HighTide drama festival, with backing from the NT and Bush Theatre. Which makes one wonder all the more at the Royal Court coming up with nothing better than Over There, Mark Ravenhill's dire latest effort – part of the venue's Off the Wall season about the legacy of contemporary Germany.

The most enticing aspect of this premiere, co-directed by Ravenhill and Ramin Gray, is that it's performed by real-life twins. Actors Harry and Luke Treadaway play siblings Franz and Karl, separated in childhood when their mother escaped to the West – leaving Karl behind with their socialist father.

When the Berlin Wall falls, the Eastern twin is hungry for the other's lifestyle. They have some telepathic sympathy, repeatedly speaking in synch, but the Western brother gets cold feet when the other wants to share his place in the world, in a matching suit.

The Treadaways are certainly game, stripping to their Y-fronts for a flurry of downstage-centre masturbation. Ideologically messed-up, Luke's Karl spirals into a breakdown, caking himself with gunky capitalist-brand foodstuffs. Harry's Franz – a consumer to the last – adds ketchup and feeds, like a vampire, on the other's dying body.

I presume this is meant to be shocking, in-yer-face, and an avant-garde sociopolitical parable. In truth, it's a bore; Ravenhill's writing seems to be regressing. "Now," cries Franz, "we are one!" Given the puerility of all this, one can be forgiven for thinking of A A Milne's children's verses, Now We are Six.

Berlin Hanover Express is, by comparison, only mildly disappointing. A theatrical debut for veteran TV scriptwriter Ian Kennedy Martin (devisor of The Sweeney), this fictional drama is set in the Irish diplomatic mission in Hitler's capital, late 1942. A senior and a junior diplomat – Sean Campion's Mallin and Owen McDonnell's rakish O'Kane – find themselves increasingly at odds over De Valera's war "neutrality". Holocaust evidence mounts and a rabid Nazi, Peter Moreton's Kollvitz, is menacingly interested in the diplomats' menial helper, Isla Carter's nervous Christe.

Campion's punctiliousness is ultimately chilling but his colleague is wearisomely verbose. Director Michael Rudman covers scene changes with oddly piecemeal newsreels, and Carter's enforced strip feels uncomfortably like collective voyeurism. Missable.



'Stovepipe' (020-7452 3000) to 26 Apr; 'Over There' (020-7565 5000) to 21 Mar; 'Berlin Hanover Express' (020-7722 9301) to 4 Apr

Arts and Entertainment

photography
Arts and Entertainment
Adolf Hitler's 1914 watercolour 'Altes Rathaus' and the original invoice from 1916

art
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible