Theatre: Gardener's question time

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The Independent Culture
KEVIN'S BED/AN EXPERIENCED WOMAN GIVES ADVICE

CITIZENS THEATRE GLASGOW/ ROYAL LYCEUM EDINBURGH

AYRSHIRE, THE home base of Borderline Theatre, may be renowned for its bacon, but there's rather too much ham being served in the British premiere of Kevin's Bed. A major hit at Dublin's Abbey Theatre last year, Bernard Farrell's comedy (its action here transposed from Ireland to Glasgow) follows a middle-class Catholic family from the 1970s to 1999, via the parents' silver and golden anniversary celebrations.

The endlessly dithering Kevin has dropped out from training to be a priest in Rome but parental hopes are briefly revived by the arrival of a young Italian nun come to talk Kevin round. Hopes are then dashed as it transpires that celibacy was the hurdle at which his vocation came a cropper.

25 years on, Kevin is as ineffectual as ever. His shotgun bride, Maria, has become the kind of termagant who surely wouldn't have survived that long, and this time it's his brother John slinking home in disgrace to face the music.

All in all, it's mediocre sitcom meets lukewarm farce, the characters barely developed beyond plot-ciphers and most of the performances correspondingly overblown and contrived. Farrell's intention appears to be to investigate a quarter-century's social change, but he never digs deep enough, into either his characters and their relationships, or the larger world and his theme resonates no more successfully than much of the humour.

It's a very different story with the Scottish premiere of Iain Heggie's amorous merry-go-round, first produced at Manchester's Royal Exchange in 1995, which positively bristles with humane yet penetrating insight and black-edged wit. Fortysomething Bella attempts to cultivate the back green of a Glasgow tenement block of a Sunday morning but her would-be solitude is continually interrupted by demands from strangers, acquaintances, ex- and current lovers all seeking her counsel, most of which is ignored. Pheromones fly thick and fast as Bella's eye goes roving in response to her younger lover's infidelity, in amongst sundry other lustful encounters over her potting compost.

Heggie's mode is half manically heightened naturalism, half playful symbolism. His quickfire dialogue is delivered with matching depth and spiky character detail by the cast, absorbingly headed by Jennifer's Black's mercurial Bella. In contrast to Borderline's heavy-handed, lightweight efforts, this is comedy of real heart and substance, its romance and humour only enriched by their bittersweet flavour.

`Kevin's Bed', (0141-429 0022) to 27 Mar, on tour to 17 Apr. `An Experienced Woman Gives Advice', (0131-248 4848) to 27 Mar

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