THEATRE / Failing the amniocentesis: Rhoda Koenig reviews Small Talk About Chromosomes at The Bush

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'You want catering at night, she wants catering during the day,' one character observes of a sexually mismatched couple in Small Talk About Chromosomes. Alas, this is the only example of politically relevant dialogue in Theatre PUR's production for the Bush, which is equally low on dramatic logic, emotional consistency, and intellectual play.

Communism may have been discarded by the masses, but the fringe theatre seems committed to the idea that the author is the representative of bourgeois individualism. Composed of 'texts found and written by the company', Small Talk is a series of short, arch scenes that portray the struggles of Shona and Bill and the doctor who makes them more confused than they are already. It begins with a discussion in which the doctor - a straight-arrow neurotic type, Jack Lemmon with a bit of John Cleese, played by William Brook - elicits their dissatisfactions and unpleasant habits. Bill (James Eastaway), a recessive salesman, complains about his wife's belching; Shona (Sue Maund), more insistent, produces a diary crammed with notes in red ink: 'A little resume of my feelings over the past week - disturbed . . . very disturbed.'

Thereafter, Bill, Shona and the doctor, aided by three young women who take various roles, including visitors from another planet, demonstrate their discomfiture. Bill recalls fearing arrest by two policemen who make a sexually ambiguous remark to him in a cafe, Shona displays a shiny red case and says: 'I carry underwear with me everywhere I go.' The doctor's creepily mellifluous tones are contradicted by his emotional disarray. When a patient enters, he tells the nurse to undress.

'What do you do at night?' the doctor asks Bill, who replies: 'I examine my body for signs of life.' This would be funnier if we had not already heard Shona say, about a physical examination, 'I examined my body as if I had one.' For a 75-minute play, Small Talk is rather parsimonious with ideas. And not all that time is spent talking. Three times the company abandons language for a sequence of jerky, disco-chicken movements.

The final scene in Lisa Baraitser and Simon Bayly's production shows the couple, who are now expecting their first child after 22 years of marriage, being counselled by the doctor about an amniocentesis. With charts illustrating X and Y chromosomes, he explains that Shona, now over 40, risks having a defective baby and asks what they plan to do. Timidly, they ask: 'What do most people do?' The silliness of Small Talk hardly prepares us for this earnest talk, and the apparent demand for involvement with the characters' plight impresses one with its effrontery rather than its sincerity.

Continues at The Bush (081-743 3388)

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