Titus Andronicus, Globe, London<br></br> Sit and Shiver, New End, London<br></br> Hear and Now, Gate, London

Forget the slaughter, what about the traffic?
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The moral challenges presented by this play (surely influenced by Marlowe's Jew of Malta) can be startling, too. Geraldine Alexander's Machiavellian Tamora and her villainous illicit lover, Shaun Parkes's Aaron, are enchantingly rhapsodic, like Titania and Oberon, when they meet in the woods. Parkes is also outstanding in his other suddenly heroic scene, defending his black newborn son from racism.

However, this production is hopeless in other respects. The tragic dimension is almost entirely missing and the gruesome violence barely registers. Composer Django Bates provides exhilarating drumming, but the soccer-style chanting - which suggests we're in a city full of savage yobs - has no sustained reverberations. Thanks to terrible wigs and make-up, the raping and murdering Goths look like Bay City Rollers auditioning to play the Cowardly Lion.

Crucially, Bailey is maladroit in the most poignant scenes. When Titus first sees his beloved daughter, Lavinia, after her mutilation - silently standing with bleeding stubs for hands - it should be heart-rending. But Hodge keeps clasping her with a roughness which, firstly, seems very improbable (even for an old soldier) and, secondly, isn't used to effect since Laura Rees's limp Lavinia scarcely flinches.

Hodge never really goes mad either, so you have to squint to discern any Lear-like moments in what is admittedly a patchy play in the first place. Meanwhile, there's endless processional palaver in the crowded pit with trundling scaffolding towers (designed by William Dudley) drowning out key speeches, and with eight-foot trumpets doing laborious three-point turns. Rome's biggest problem appears to be traffic congestion.

Little better can be said of Steven Berkoff's latest, Sit and Shiver. This is a simultaneously feeble and endlessly hollered comedy about caricatured Jewish East Enders mourning a patriarch at a domestic gathering where reverence takes repeated tumbles. Mike Leigh's recent play, Two Thousand Years - comparably bringing together three generations of Jewish North Londoners - was miles more astute and on the ball. Berkoff's self-directed rambling script desperately needs cuts. Even the potentially absorbing interludes - where the guests dance out their greetings - aren't skillfully executed. RIP.

Hear and Now is much better. Presented by the South African company Duckrabbit, who quietly combine storytelling, physical theatre and puppetry, this is a gentle two-hander inspired by the writings of Jan Rabie. It charts the ups and downs of a shy romance between a lonely woman whose aged mother is dying and an obsessively hermetic man who lives in the same apartment block.

This is not as searing as Duckrabbit's previous production, Tshepang, and this piece almost over-eggs its intimate tenderness, perhaps slightly pleased with its own niceness and notions of psychological healing through talk. But Lara Foot Newton's direction mostly steers clear of sentimentality. Denise Newman has a beautiful, luminous warmth as the Woman while Lionel Newton has some spiky moments as the Man. This company's understated theatrical style can be imaginative and brilliantly simple, too. There's a winning roughness as well as a coziness about Gerhard Marx's set, with its floor made of old doors and its dreamlike miniature bed. Newman only has to spin around slowly to become the narrator, stepping out of the action, and Newton transmogrifies from the Man into his remembered father, just unpinning the two small puppet legs that dangle from his belt and giving them a ghostly piggyback on his shoulders. Strangely haunting.

k.bassett@independent.co.uk

'Titus Andronicus' to 6 October, 020 7401 9919; 'Sit and Shiver' to 2 July, 0870 033 2733; 'Hear and Now' to 10 June, 020 7229 0706

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