Wig Out!, Royal Court Theatre, London; In a Dark Dark House, Almeida Theatre, London

These trannies and their grannies are a real drag

Exclamation marks are always a bad sign. You feel that the publicity agent who described Olivier's Hamlet as "the story of a man who couldn't make up his mind" would have added one in. Wig Out! is the story of men who can make up their make-up and triumph on bad-hair days. "Like the South," drawls Rey-Rey, Mother of the House of Light, "I shall rise again."

There's a gay club in London called Heaven, no doubt part of the same Miltonic cosmology created here by the black American playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney: the House of Light is at war with the House of Diabolique, with a fashion showdown booked on the catwalk at the Cinderella Ball.

A minimal narrative momentum is supplied by the induction of Eric the Red (Alex Lanipekun) – a non-cross-dressing gay boy – in the trials of transvestism. Trouble is, these trials are nonexistent beyond the queeny caterwauling of the inmates and the minor emotional rivalries in the House.

Rey-Rey's opposite number, Serena (Billy Carter), a masochistic devil woman, scowls in the outer darkness, while her henchman Loki (Drew Caiden) dances like a demon. Lucian, founding father of the House of Light, is, I suppose, the brightest star who fell, but Danny Sapani plays him as a grumpy doorman at a buffet bar.

McCraney is this year's new name, a Harvard graduate promoted by Peter Brook, whose two poetic Louisiana meditations mixed with Yoruba mythology at the Young Vic, The Brothers Size and In the Red and Brown Water, have deservedly won him the Evening Standard's most promising new playwright award. But Wig Out! seems strained and anorexic, and not just because the boys are stick-thin clothes horses.

Dominic Cooke's production, designed by Ultz, has ripped out the centre of the Court's stalls area and installed a raised catwalk. The music blares anonymously through the smoky ether, the proceedings supervised by a singing girl group, the Fates Three, and broken up with confessional gender-bending monologues, all of which begin, "My grandmother wore a wig..."

Cooke's voyage through the underground is devoid of informative travel notes – such as, what exactly is the culture of black American sexuality we're dealing with here? – and, more importantly, any showbiz uplift. It's all deadly dull, apart from Kevin Harvey's camp put-downs as Rey-Rey, an act of diminishing returns in a thin text, and the elegant pouting of Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as the ballroom queen who picks up Eric on the Subway.

At least Wig Out! has one thing in its favour: it's probably the only new play this year not (directly, at least) about child abuse. In a Dark Dark House at the Almeida is a grimly personal exorcism by another American writer, Neil LaBute, of an unhappy childhood at the hands of a violent father. Two brothers, one a successful lawyer, Terry (Steven Mackintosh), the other a sullen security guard, Drew (David Morrissey), learn the truth about each other by sharing what is secret between them.

LaBute confirms his mastery of form and narrative revelation in a piece that is slyly composed as a taut triptych in thrall to Sam Shepard and Ingmar Bergman but still feels undernourished, despite the careful attention of the director, Michael Attenborough.

Mackintosh gives a wonderful account of an adulterated adulthood that, despite the compensations of family life, has spun out of control into drink and promiscuity. Morrissey reminds us of his power and naturalism on stage and finds new notes of vulnerability.

Lez Brotherston's design is a paradisiacal green enclave serving first as the grounds of an institution, then a novelty putting green, finally Terry's back garden. In the middle scene, Drew encounters the daughter of the brothers' sexual nemesis, a lush little Lolita played by Kira Sternbach as a reminder of the possible joys of sex. But Eden is a tainted place. The apple has been munched. And these boys obviously didn't have a granny in a wig.

'Wig Out!' to 10 January (020-7565 5000); 'In a Dark Dark House' to 17 January (020-7359 4404)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
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
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.

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    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