THEATRE / FRINGE: A tragedy of errors

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The Independent Culture
Every so often, in among the tirades against split infinitives and confusion of 'imply' and 'infer' that are one of our great national pastimes, you come across laments about media debasement of the word 'tragedy'. I sympathise with the complaint; but honestly, the way tragedy has been debased by the press is nothing to the way it has been debased by playwrights.

John Ford is one offender, in The Broken Heart, revived by Triptych Theatre Company at the Lyric Studio, Hammersmith. This is not quite a Jacobean tragedy, in period (Ford comes a couple of years too late) or in tone: sure, there's a bit of death

towards the close, and some strokes of mildly grotesque humour, but not the sense of pervasive corruption and death you look for in Webster or Middleton. While the language is often pleasing, the action lacks bite; everything is done with too much propriety.

The heart of the story is the unhappy marriage forced on Penthea by her brother, Ithocles. Orgilus, her former betrothed, tries to persuade her that she's his by natural law, but she's too good to fall for that one. So he sets out for revenge.

A shame this may be; a tragedy it isn't. The problem - partly Ford's, partly stemming from Jonathan Church's low-voltage production - is that these seem pretty reasonable people, and you can't help feeling that if they'd just sit down and talk things over we could settle all this peaceably. It doesn't help that the play hangs on Orgilus, and Tom Bowles lacks the presence to hold it together.

The difficulty with Kaboodle's production of A View from the Bridge, visiting Watermans from Liverpool, is precisely the opposite: Lee Beagley's big, mumbling Eddie Carbone dominates the stage effortlessly, and everybody else seems to be trying too hard. The only points where Beagley falls down are precisely the wrong ones - the kisses he forces on his niece, Catherine, and her lover, Rodolpho, are both too snatched to match up to the desire in the one and the deliberate humiliation in the other. It doesn't help that Rodolpho is played for laughs, or that Steven Rayworth's rasping lawyer lacks the weight for the framing speeches that relate modern New York to ancient Sicily (similarly, Ford looks for legitimacy by placing The Broken Heart in ancient Sparta). Again, any intended sense of tragedy is chucked away.

Peripheral Violence at least doesn't offer a mock- classical setting - this is a housing estate in present- day Glasgow. In fact, the main selling-point in Robin Lindsay Wilson's tale of murderous children is its topicality (though we're assured that it was written pre-Bulger).

The play opens promisingly with a convincing picture of childish power- play - threat and counter- threat, violence traded against information - but the central drama relies on a contrived sequence of events and some off-the- shelf sociology.

'A View from the Bridge' continues to 4 June at Watermans Arts Centre, Brentford, Middx (Booking: 081-586 1176); 'The Broken Heart', to 11 June, Lyric Studio, London W6 (081-741 8701); 'Peripheral Violence', to 5 June, at the Cockpit, London NW1 (071-402 5081)

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