Theatre EACH DAY DIES WITH SLEEP Orange Tree, Richmond, Surrey

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The Independent Culture
"What are you doing upright and speaking sequentially?" asks a piqued patriarch in Each Day Dies With Sleep. It's a strange question to put to a grown-up daughter - still odder when you reflect that the speaker, who can toss out words like "sequentially", is a far from cultivated Puerto Rican.

But then, there's a great deal in Jose Rivera's fantastical tragi-comedy - now receiving its English premiere in a persuasive, beautifully acted production by Dominic Cooke - that bypasses surface realism so as to project a heightened version of psychological truth.

Plunging you into a world where an oppressive family home can go on cancerously growing new rooms, where a girl with mismatched eyes can dream the future, and where it's perfectly possible for an orange tree to sprout in the middle of a lounge, the play charts the heroic efforts of its protagonist, Nelly (Rakie Ayola), to survive her traumatic past.

It's a story, in her case, of having quite literally to learn to stand on her own two feet. The middle child in a family of 21, with a superannuated jock of a father (excellent Vincenzo Nicoli) who would like to bed her but can't even remember her name, Nelly is so love-deprived at the start of the play that, like some expressionist symbol of neglect, she is barely able to force herself upright or speak properly.

Help comes in the somewhat dubious shape of Johnny (Jonathan Wrather), a naively conceited young Latin dreamboat who has already seduced his way through her older sisters ("What can I say? I love this family!"). With the proceeds of a lottery win, the pair make off for a new life running a garage business in Los Angeles, where Johnny's looks have the women queuing for his services round the block.

The past, though, can't be shrugged off so easily. Paralysed from the waist down in an accident that Nelly has forecast (her dream premonitions are visible on a surround of TV monitors), the comic nightmare patriarch is soon riding into their Eden in his wheelchair. Much of what follows is like a delirious sick joke, with the father stopping at nothing to get rid of Johnny (even sending him perverted thought-messages that purport to come from one of Nelly's fanciable younger siblings, who is now, she assures him, "legal in many states").

A wacko plot, involving hurricanes, aphrodisiac oranges and facially disfiguring infernos, tests Nelly's ability to endure, as does the fact that the two rival males seem to love her only in the self-regarding sense of being prepared to kill one another for exclusive possession.

The play has its weaknesses (Nelly's predictive skills, for instance, fail to give tension or added complexity to the story). But in its depiction of primal psychic battles and archetypal triangles, the drama has an insidious, blackly comic power and will get under the defences even of those people for whom "magical realism" is normally neither magical nor realistic.

n To 5 Aug, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond. Booking: 0181-940 3633

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