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

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Jess Glynne is UK number 1

music

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
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.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor