Two-Way Mirror, Courtyard Theatre, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Fans of Arthur Miller and Abi Titmuss (what a duo!) are the only theatregoers who will be interested in seeing Mike Miller's revival of two one-acters written in 1983. Even the most ardent ones, however, are bound to be disappointed.

After the Fall (1964) was denounced for its contemp-tuous portrayal of Marilyn Monroe, Miller's second wife, who had killed herself the year before he wrote it. That, however, was a masterpiece of delicacy compared to his reworking of its material in Some Kind of Love Story.

In both the writing and the production, a documentary approach (Titmuss wears a bouffant platinum wig and talks in a breathy, overemphatic voice) jars with a stylised one (Jay Benedict, as a detective, speaks and gestures in a staccato fashion; mention of a cell door slamming is followed by the sound). Not only is the ambience that of a film noir; the plot is distilled to the quintessence of the genre. The detective tries to extract information about a crime, the floozie tries to get him into bed or spits abuse. The language is much bluer than that of a Forties film, but a framing device tells us we may be on a film set, and references to mental instability suggest it may all be a hallucination.

If Miller thought that this what-is-real? business would shield him from further accusations of tastelessness, he was dead wrong. You don't need the detective's references to haemorrhoids and painful testicles to hear this as the monotonous kvetch of a sour old man.

In Elegy for a Lady, the male character is once again victimised by a beautiful woman, this time one who, by dying young, is making him aware of his own mortality. Asking for help in selecting a suitable gift for his much-younger mistress, the man impresses a shopkeeper as being deeply sensitive. They agree that the perfect present for a dying, bedridden woman would be a watch, and the shopkeeper not only gives it to him but throws in several lingering kisses. If the first piece reeks of bile, this makes the air saccharine with odor sanctitatis.

Benedict wisely plays his part in a stolid, straightforward manner; Titmuss goes for sweet sadness but produces only girlish affectation. Her failure, though, has a poetic rightness in this double bill. Nobody was ever going to be good enough for our Arthur.

To 2 April (0870 163 0717)

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