The Blue Dragon, Barbican, London
Reading Hebron, Orange Tree, London
Snake in the Grass, Print Room, London

Robert Lepage returns with a stylish drama about ageing, East-West difference and life's chances

This is life seen by flashes of lightning. Indeed, 20 years have passed in the blink of an eye, because The Blue Dragon – devised by Quebec's world-class director Robert Lepage – is a hiatus-leaping sequel to his early Dragon's Trilogy.

In that triptych, the final setting was 1987 and Pierre Lamontagne, a young artist, was quitting Canada for the Far East. In The Blue Dragon, we find Pierre (played by a grey-haired Lepage) in Shanghai: a gentle-mannered gallery owner going through mid-life turbulence.

He lives in an ex-industrial atelier, yet now faces eviction from property developers. At the same time his old flame Claire (Marie Michaud, also co-writer) visits. She's an advertising exec focused on adopting a baby, but she could come between Pierre and his new lover, a young artist (Tai Wei Foo) whose work he has fostered.

The Blue Dragon isn't completely brilliant. Some scenes fall slightly flat. Nonetheless, its tenderness is poignant, Lepage combining quiet, naturalistic intimacy with dazzling, poetic images. The skylights in Pierre's shadowy loft blaze electric-blue in a thunder storm. They're magically transformed into the portholes of Claire's incoming jumbo jet (using projection screens and sliding floors). And Tai Wei Foo dances in a mask and robes, like some Beijing Opera goddess, against a vast swirl of digital snow. Through the prism of a tragicomic love triangle, Lepage ruminates expansively (in English, French and Mandarin) on East and West, lines of communication and division, sweeping cultural changes, and what alternative paths a person might take.

In Reading Hebron, by Toronto playwright Jason Sherman, Nathan Abramowitz is a liberal, Jewish intellectual who has never set foot in the Middle East. Yet he becomes obsessed by the 1994 Hebron massacre. That was the dark day when Baruch Goldstein, a US-born West Bank settler, shot dead 29 Muslims in the mosque at the Cave of the Patriarchs – a site considered sacred by both Judaic and Islamic worshippers. Goldstein was a known extremist who'd apparently vowed to revenge Arab attacks on Jews.

Evidently, those events continue to reverberate today, with the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, now, uncertainty about the future, following Tunisia and Egypt's regime changes. Ergo, Sherman's play will be engrossing and illuminating. Alas, not so. Reading Hebron is a wasted opportunity, an inept political-cum-personal drama. Played out under white spotlights around a black table, Sam Walters's fluid production may give the impression, superficially, that Sherman's script is a stylish collage. As David Antrobus's Nathan tries to learn more about the massacre, phoning libraries and thumbing through the inquiry report – a supporting cast of four dart in and out, playing multiple characters with minimal fuss. One minute, they're witnesses giving evidence to the commission. The next, they're ringing in as Nathan's bitter ex or his fussy mother, insisting that he celebrate Passover.

Basically, though, Sherman's script is a scrappy hotchpotch, neither investigative nor emotionally engaging. It's arid, too, substituting a reading list for dialogue in one scene. And a fantasy sequence in which Nathan turns game-show host, demanding that Noam Chomsky and other opinion-formers shrink their views on Arab-Jewish relations to 30-second soundbites, is embarrassingly stupid.

No brilliant new insights are to be gained either, though presumably we're meant to be startled by Nathan's wracked conclusion that it wasn't just a lone madman who was responsible for the massacre (as the commission held), but the entire Jewish people – for harbouring xenophobic feelings.

In Alan Ayckbourn's Snake in the Grass, Annabel is obviously going to fall victim either to her bonkers, murderous sister Miriam, or else the ghost of their abusive father. Will Annabel's weak heart hold out when – as sole inheritor of his estate – she's blackmailed by his menacing former nurse then embroiled in a serial-killing spree?

Frankly, who cares when this is such a fifth-rate thriller? After a string of top-notch Ayckbourn revivals, Snake in the Grass (from 2002), at once cliché-ridden and implausible, looks like the work of an over-prolific hack.

For Lucy Bailey's production, designer William Dudley has created a dilapidated tennis-court setting, with ivy crawling up wire fencing and seeping fog. It's a pity the ghost in the ball-firing machine is clumsily managed. Moreover, while Sarah Woodward is gripping as the sullen Miriam, Susan Wooldridge is an oddly camp Annabel, like Mr Humphries from Are You Being Served? played by Penelope Keith.

That said, Bailey's new fringe venue is very enticing: a small, 1950s ex-printworks tucked down a candlelit passage in Notting Hill. All it needs now is inspired programming.

'The Blue Dragon' (0845 120 7550) to 26 Feb; 'Reading Hebron' (020-8940 3633) to 12 Mar; 'Snake in the Grass' (0844 477 1000) to 5 Mar

Next Week:

Kate Bassett gawps at Frankenstein and his Creature in Danny Boyle's National Theatre starry crowd-puller

Theatre Choice

The Sheffield Crucible's David Hare season includes his outstanding early play Plenty. A generation lose their way post-Second World War, with Hattie Morahan, above, seeking thrills and lost ideals (to 26 Feb). At London's Comedy Theatre, a pupil accuses her teachers of lesbianism in Lillian Helman's 1930s drama The Children's Hour (to 7 May).

Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice