This Is How It Goes, Donmar Warehouse, London

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The Independent Culture

Neil LaBute seems to be flavour of the month on the London stage. Less than a week after the opening of his new play Some Girl(s), starring David Schwimmer, at the Gielgud Theatre, the Donmar Warehouse treats us to the UK premiere of This Is How It Goes.

Neil LaBute seems to be flavour of the month on the London stage. Less than a week after the opening of his new play Some Girl(s), starring David Schwimmer, at the Gielgud Theatre, the Donmar Warehouse treats us to the UK premiere of This Is How It Goes.

The former piece - in which a writer on the brink of marriage flies round the US to meet up with his previous lovers - exhibits worrying signs that it has been rewritten to accommodate the fact that Schwimmer is too wholesome to be plausible as a full-strength LaBute protagonist. Presented in a darkly droll, pitch-perfect production by Moises Kaufman, This Is How It Goes is free from any hint of self-censoring.

Our guide for the evening is a former lawyer-turned-tentative writer who re-encounters the beautiful girl he had a crush on back in his fat and nerdy high school years. Portrayed by Ben Chaplin with terrific charm, this figure - who, like the Schwimmer character, is simply called Man - plays around with chronology and stage-manages alternative versions of events as he unveils for us the complications arising from an erotic interracial triangle. The woman (played with superb naturalness by Megan Dodds) is now married to their classmate Cody (an impressive Idris Elba), a black high-school athletics star who has become a successful businessman and something of a dignitary in this introverted white town. They look to the world like a golden couple, but that's not the impression they give the Man, when he moves into the room over their garage.

By the end, the woman is in the process of divorcing Cody and has begun a relationship with the white man. It's how this comes about that remains moot in a play that is studiedly tricksy and slippery in a manner designed to bring the audience up short against its unacknowledged prejudices.

There was always a simmering resentment against Cody who, as the only black kid for miles around, used to be accused of "playing the Ace of Spades", or the race card, when teams were being picked or when a girl declined to go out with him. The experience seems to have turned him into a rigid over-achiever, intent on preserving his status and self-image to the detriment of his marriage and his emotional life. Not that the woman's motives for marrying him were particularly profound: she principally wanted to be noticed and to shock her parents.

In order to salvage the reputation she had begun to endanger, did Cody really enter into a secret deal with the Man, paying him to take her off his hands in exchange for a rare baseball card depicting a famous black player? That is one account of what happened. But throughout, our far-from-trusty master of ceremonies is a disturbing tease, and the play he conjures up is perhaps best viewed as an elaborate rationalisation of his deep-seated racism.

To 9 July (020-7240 4882)

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