The Little Dog Laughed, Garrick, London
Six Degrees of Separation, Old Vic, London
The Rivals, Southwark, London

A storming Tamsin Greig channels her inner bitch in a snappy US satire on Hollywood, hypocrisy and homophobia

Mitchell is a fictive Hollywood star. Indeed, this pivotal character in the West End's entertaining new American satire, The Little Dog Laughed, is a fabrication in more ways than one because the public persona Mitchell maintains, to safeguard his lucrative popularity, is a tissue of lies.

Penned by the fast-rising writer Douglas Carter Beane, this is a contemporary comedy of manners which lampoons the hypocritically homophobic and image-manipulating movie industry, while secreting a tender gay love story at its heart.

In director Jamie Lloyd's snappily stylised British premiere, Rupert Friend's lean and bronzed Mitchell is in denial about his sexual inclinations. Then he falls for a scruffy rent boy, Harry Lloyd's sweet, tentatively reciprocating Alex, and decides to come out of the closet.

However, Mitchell's agent, Tamsin Greig's ferociously hardnosed Diane, insists he keeps up the pretence. Though non-hetero herself, she is hell-bent on elbowing Alex out of the picture and setting the record "straight" with a paparazzi-placating wedding, involving Alex's photogenic ex-girlfriend, Ellen – that's if she can be bought.

To call The Little Dog Laughed a biting satire would be extravagant but Carter Beane certainly isn't afraid to nip the hand of the entertainment industry that feeds him. Showbiz machinations are an easy and familiar target, the mock-happy ending shallows out any profound sense of loss, and Gemma Arterton's Ellen strains to be as amusing as the others.

Nevertheless, Lloyd and Friend are both droll and touchingly passionate, stripping down to their pants in a frenzy of desire. And Greig is absolutely storming, combining deadpan sardonic digs and flamboyant swish. Vogueing in a black evening dress, she's like a Prada-wearing Wicked Witch of the West Coast, while making out she's everyone's fairy godmother, dispensing dollars and dreams.

Deception and slippery identities slither on, as running themes, in Six Degrees of Separation, John Guare's hit Manhattan drama from the 1990s.

Played by Obi Abili in a major new production at the Old Vic, Paul is a spellbinding impostor. An Afro-American underdog and compulsive fantasist, he has forged a scintillating new identity for himself. You might say he's the Eliza Doolittle of New York hustlers, or a potentially dangerous distant cousin of Billy Liar. Having been picked up on the street by a preppy gay guy, he demands lessons in elocution and social niceties. Soon, pretending to be the Harvard-educated son of Sidney Poitier, he proceeds to charm the socks and wallets off a string of wealthy Upper East Siders, including a suave art dealer called Flan (Anthony Head) and his wife, Ouisa (Lesley Manville).

The trouble is, this revival leaves you feeling slightly cheated yourself, as if there's something tricksy about the play per se. Guare's storytelling keeps changing tack – with flashbacks – in a manner that feels flashy. And the rich socialites' petulant kids, who Paul claims were classmates, are annoyingly sketchy cameos. Frankly, it's not surprising that Flan and Ouisa are wowed by his elaborate hoax when their own offspring are such unconvincing caricatures.

And yet, the play's titular concept – the idea that we're all connected to everyone else via half-a-dozen (or fewer) social links – does cut startlingly through class strata and racial divides. The problem is that, with Ouisa spelling this out more than once – and Manville milking it – Guare starts to seem a pseud, especially when he throws potted theses on Kandinsky and Catcher in the Rye into the dinner-party mix.

That said, the deep marital unhappiness that Manville ultimately reveals, and her final phone conversation with Abili's still shifty but desperately needy Paul are transfixing. Abili is certainly a star player, even if this production, with astounding racial insensitivity, makes him play second fiddle to Manville at the curtain call.

Finally, up-and-coming director Jessica Swale has lined up a notable cast for her fringe production of The Rivals, Sheridan's 18th-century comedy of duelling suitors and confused identities set amid the social whirl of Bath Spa. Swale's ensemble, in low-budget period dress, are pleasingly buoyant, immediately creating gossipy intimacy by winking at the audience during their asides. They also launch into a square dance to the wittily folksified tune of Beyoncé's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)".

Unfortunately, these winning tactics don't enjoy further development. Harry Hadden-Paton cuts a dash as the incognito aristocrat Jack Absolute, but Celia Imrie is on automatic pilot as the pea-brained Mrs Malaprop and Ella Smith (from the West End hit, Fat Pig) is completely wasted as Lydia Languish's bland friend, Julia. Both are outshone by their wanton maid, Jenni Maitland's Lucy, and Christopher Logan as the cowardly bumpkin Bob Acres is a wonderfully etiolated twit in a frock coat.

'The Little Dog Laughed' (0844 412 4662) to 10 Apr; 'Six Degrees of Separation' (0844 871 7628) to 3 Apr; 'The Rivals' (020-7407 0234) to 30 Jan

Next Week:

Kate Bassett finds out what the acclaimed experimental troupe Filter has done with Chekhov's Three Sisters as they strip it bare at the Lyric Hammersmith

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

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.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker