THEATRE / Finished goods: Round-up

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What is there to keep me here? The dialogue]' exclaims the blind and paralysed Hamm in one of Beckett's flashes of pure, exhilarating double- bluff. Whatever it is that keeps an audience in Endgame (at the Arts Theatre), it isn't the dialogue, consisting as it mainly does of the phatic repetitions of four people bound by a symbiotic oppression. And it cannot honestly be said to be fast-moving action, fine characterisation, optimism or high moral debate.

Endgame is one of those plays which brought theatre to a point beyond which nobody else could take it. Beginning with the words, 'Finished. It's finished', it plays with the human condition, as well as the history of theatre, through the peculiarly universal relationships on stage.

Looking out into the audience through a telescope, Clov sarcastically comments: 'I see a multitude in transports of joy.' Alasdair Middleton's production may not inspire quite that effect, but it is a faithful and far from dour interpretation, enhanced by John Quentin as the loquacious and dominant Hamm, resplendent in his throne and off-setting petulance with lugubrious, cruel charm.

William Mastrosimone's 1986 play Cat's-Paw at BAC duly proves that after Beckett, all that could be done was retreat back to the tradition of theatre as moral debate, and create characters who represent particular and opposing points of view. In Cat's-Paw, Chris Chappell plays Victor, the ecological activist whose passion is such that he is prepared to sacrifice human life to safeguard nature. Set against him is an ambitious, liberal journalist Jessica Lyons (Samia Rida), and the fall guy for the water industry, David Darling (David Lister) who is now Victor's hostage.

The first half languishes under heavy exposition, fairly predictable debate and an inexperienced company who cannot embue proceedings with the tension they require. In the second half, however, the action hots up, the complexity deepens and the play reveals itself as what it inevitably must be: a study of one man's personal psychosis, rather than a discourse on the ethics of terrorism.

Moliere's The Sister hood (Les Femmes Savantes) at the New End, a lampooning of 17th-century blue-stockings, is an obvious candidate to be made into a satire of contemporary feminist theorists, and the translator, Ranjit Bolt, has let no opportunity pass him by. Scattering the verse with references to Derrida, Dworkin and Deconstruction, he even has the audacity to suggest that 'Barthes' rhymes with 'fart'.

Jeremy Battersby finds some wonderful excesses of silliness as the posturing Trissotin, and David Robson's production never allows the pace to relent for a moment. Never the less, in this case it is the dialogue that keeps you there.

'Endgame', Arts (071-836 2132). 'Cat's Paw', BAC (071- 223 2223). 'The Sisterhood', New End (071-794 0022)

(Photograph omitted)