THEATRE / Deadly fun: Paul Taylor on Suicide and Manipulation at the Finborough, London

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The Independent Culture
Get this for a recherche problem in the etiquette of mourning. Imagine that you are a druggy, once highly successful model, and that your American boyfriend - an 'artist' who kills birds and hangs them from bits of wire - has persuaded you to join him in a world-despising suicide pact. He has the decor ready (the chairs are plastered in his trademark feathers), but instead of honouring the appointment, you're avoidably detained having sex with a third party in a motel, leaving your lover to video his protracted suicide alone. Late for your Liebestod: talk about an Isolde manquee.

So what do you do with his ashes, to show him that you know you should be in the urn too? Since Louis always enjoyed getting up people's noses, you consider mixing him with cocaine and blasting him through the air ducts of Harrods. But that's not really cool enough; and you reject smoking him in a joint as 'too Sixties'. The solution finally adopted in Robert Young's Suicide and Manipulation is that the deceased's lover Helen (Lesley Vickerage) and his former assistant (Tracey Mitchell) use him as the salt-substitute in a round of tequila slammers. Ashes to ashes, dust to cocktail-accompaniment.

Roxana Silbert's attractive production at the Finborough creates the right drolly oddball atmosphere for a comedy in which the not-so-dear departed returns as an angel, first on television, then in person, to hustle the model into keeping her side of the bargain. Young plays a little fast and loose with the logic of the situation (how come the angel can pry at will on her sexual relations with other men, yet when it suits the plot, be ignorant of her whereabouts?) and the scatter-gun satire, equally dismissive of the model's world of trashy glamour and of the artist's selfish romanticism, doesn't offer enough implied positives to make Helen's vacillation between life and suicide remotely compelling. After all, anyone who, even in jest, is reduced to offering 'Christmas' and 'Vic Reeves' as possible reasons for living, cannot be trying too hard.

It is the neat one-liners ('You're about as independent as Ernie Wise') and the occasional inspired riffs of wit that keep you interested. Young has a nice feel for the absurd: 'All my cellulite's gone]' an amazed Helen reports in a TV message from Heaven, where she and Louis are seen living in a sort of Jeff Koons egoisme-a-deux with feathers. And, aided by William Marsh's first-rate performance as the artist, which gives a lovely loopy twist to the dangerous magnetism of this terminal obsessive, the drama finds a lot of comic mileage from the cocky persistence of his spiel. Exuding insidious superiority, he affects to be disappointed that 'that stuff on the floor' he saw during one of his snoopings on Helen's sex life was just the hunt for a dropped contact lens. As the model, Vickerage is also very fine, though she could afford to look less vibrantly healthy.

Finding the right wings for someone who, when alive, specialised in feathers and stuffed birds must have been a headache for Heaven's costume department. But they came up trumps with a fetching fluffy little pink number that looks as if it is being test- modelled in readiness for Barbara Cartland.

Finborough Theatre, London, SW10 (071-373 3842) to 29 Jan