The Age of Consent, The Bush, London<br></br>Bedbound, Royal Court Upstairs, London<br></br>Een Hond Begraven, BAC, London

Domineering mothers, psychotic fathers and one dead mutt
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Feeling shackled was everybody's fate on stage this week, particularly in relation to their shady pasts. Imprisonment, both literal and psychological, is central to The Age Of Consent, which has transferred to London after causing a stir at Edinburgh last summer. For Peter Morris's controversial two-hander, by way of a fictional young offender, alludes to James Bulger's killers who were released in 2001 after eight years inside.

We find Timmy (Ben Silverstone), a gangly adolescent in a tracksuit, sitting in a white space that might be an interrogation room – although the back wall and floor are fashioned from one long projection screen. Soon to be sent out into the community, this lad talks rapidly and grins nervously as he makes eye contact with us.

He speaks ambiguously about his rehabilitation. Having emphasised that he's now acquired a decent education, he expresses fears about only knowing the outside world via books and films (with worrying echoes of the Bulger case's links with video nasties). Oscillating between optimism and despair, Timmy also imagines his first attempt at a chat-up, flinches when recalling his crime, and questions whether he'll survive as a nobody in the crowd.

In a second intercut monologue, Stephanie (Katherine Parkinson in pink leg-warmers) is a working-class mum bent on moulding her daughter into a starlet. Such dreams, we perceive, end in bullying as the six-year-old is corralled into auditions and brashly taught Entertainment's three Ts – "Talent, Teeth and Tits". This child ends up, it is implied, sexually abused by an advert director.

Besides having an ear for chat and managing gradual revelations, Morris spotlights connecting issues in his protagonists' separate lives. He worries about prematurity in today's children, the power of our celebrity-obsessed media and whether psychological scars can ever disappear. The Age Of Consent also challenges the bald journalistic label "evil". Silverstone's Timmy – under Edward Dick's direction – seems desperately naïve at points.

However, this portrait is tainted with sentimentality and sensationalism as Timmy sobs then flips into threatening rages, clutching his A-level coursework teddy bear. Stephanie can be crudely satirised as well, though her dim callousness is downplayed by Parkinson. At root, I never completely believed in Murray's characters – a significant problem when the subject matter is associated with polemical actual events. It is perhaps ironic that The Age Of Consent is not a fully mature piece of theatre. Still, this troupe are all talented with promising futures and – as for the audience – they may enjoy the prospect of escaping the Bush's agonising bench seats after only 80 minutes.

The very title of Bedbound, written by Ireland's bold young Enda Walsh, evokes an arrested life. And in the dramatist's own staging of this poetic yet fierce duologue (another belated Edinburgh Festival import), you stare into a nightmarishly cramped and dilapidated purple cell. A scrawny man (Liam Carney) and a haggard girl (Norma Sheahan) – dysfunctional father and daughter – share a mattress and compulsively relive bygone days.

He remembers his rise to managerial glory in the furniture trade then his fall into psychotic violence. She's a cripple, hemmed in by the partition walls with which he's filled her world. Yearning for her late mother, she seeks freedom via romantic stories or confession and forgiveness.

This may be a symbolic vision of Irish political schisms with shards of religious optimism. In more immediate terms, Walsh packs a punch with linguistic inventiveness – as he did in Disco Pigs. In Bedbound, his souls in limbo look Beckettian, but he idiosyncratically interrupts lyrical descriptions with brutal insults and gibbering. Sometimes the frenetic pace fails to involve you. That said, Carney and Sheahan are intense grotesques who ultimately attain a beautiful moment of peace.

At the BAC, a nutty trio obsessively reconstruct an evening they supposedly spent four years ago in Amsterdam. In If Performance Collective's experimental production of Karst Woudstra's Een Hond Begraven – which translates as Burying The Dog – Peter is planning an intimate evening at home when his sibling Bart swaggers in, on his way to an extramarital liaison. A stray hound has started pursuing Bart and farcical chaos ensues as Peter's bloated girlfriend, Muriel, starts flirting like crazy, throws up, then harps on about interring the (now-dead) mutt. She wraps the corpse in a Dutch flag while the brothers work through their presumed ancestral connections with Nazism.

Woudstra's absurdist play can irritate as it deals superficially with big issues – national and personal histories, guilt and purgation. Plot developments are sluggish, too. Nonetheless, I'm glad to have caught If PC for they're a strikingly off-the-wall bunch. The DIY sound-effects – imitating gushing bodily fluids with bags of lentils – might be rudimentary but they're disgustingly convincing. The cast's ad-libbing is also assured as they pretend to squabble about inaccurate replays. Sporadically witty, in spite of longueurs.

k.bassett@independent.co.uk

'The Age Of Consent': Bush, London W12 (020 7610 4224), to 9 Feb; 'Bedbound': Royal Court, London SW1 (020 7565 5000), to 2 Feb; 'Een Hond Begraven': BAC, London SW11 (020 7223 2223), to 27 Jan

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