The Maths Tutor, Hampstead Theatre, London

A play called The Maths Tutor sounds about as enticing as a piece entitled The Traffic Warden or The Emergency Dentist. But don't be put off by the name, for the deeply painful yet obstinately funny situation at the heart of Clare McIntyre's latest drama throws an intriguing light on the sexual prejudices and practices of our day and on their consequences for family life.

The scenario has distinct echoes of The Children's Hour, the 1934 play by Lillian Hellman in which a neurotic and malignant young girl at a New England boarding school runs away and justifies her action to her family by claiming that the schoolmistress is having a lesbian affair. It's a lie that unwittingly stumbles on a truth - forcing to the surface, in the accused couple, agonising doubts about sexual preference.

In McIntyre's piece, a similar false allegation is made by a 15-year-old boy, JJ (Ben McKay), who, with his friend Tom (Nicholas Figgis), is having weekly extra maths lessons. Lazy, fed up, and angry with his mother for having kept something important secret, he tells her that the tutor has been touching him up and masturbating. It's an outrageous fabrication and is successfully refuted, but not before it has exposed the fact that the tutor, Brian (Martin Wenner), is having a highly sexual affair with Tom's father, Paul (Christopher Ravenscroft), and that an apparently contented marriage is built on a fault-line.

McIntyre cunningly compares and contrasts two different family set-ups. Anna, JJ's glamorous estate-agent mother, has brought him up on his own since her divorce. Wittily and warmly played by Sally Dexter, she's a woman who likes a glass or six, is never without a lover, says the first thing that comes into her head and prides herself on being upfront about sex. She fails to realise that her determined frankness has probably pressurised poor JJ into bragging, quite without foundation, that he has lost his virginity. The limits of this swinging freethinker's liberalism are amusingly tested by developments. Draining a vodka bottle, she rambles on about how paedophilia is everywhere these days: "Well, maybe not the RAF. But definitely the Marines. Royalty. And as for the telly..." When the tutor demonstrates his innocence and scotches the idea that one can equate homosexuality with paedophilia, her idea of a friendly, broad-minded parting shot is to say: "If it's any consolation, Brian, I didn't even realise you were gay."

A troubled single parent, Anna thinks she envies the child-centred placidity of the domestic set-up shared by Paul and his wife, Jane, who is portrayed with great empathy by Tricia Kelly. The children, though, are the only thing that keeps their marriage going. Paul often leaves for adulterous weekends, and Jane is prepared to tolerate the situation, provided she never has to come into contact with any male lovers. In introducing Brian to the home as a tutor, her husband has broken the golden rule, and the dam of her stoical acceptance bursts. Gently and without any inflated claims that they are going to be sisters in solidarity, the play charts a growing rapport between Anna and Jane, women so different that they barely like each other at the start. It's typical of Anna's tactlessness that, at one point, she mentions Jane's fortysomething facial hair. Tellingly, it turns out later that Paul hadn't even noticed. And when, at the end, she goes off to have it removed by electrolysis, she is, at long last, doing something to please herself.

Anthony Clark directs a fluent and expertly inflected production that augurs well for his new regime at Hampstead Theatre.

To 25 October (020-7722 9301)

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
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.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links