Theatre Goldhawk Road The Bush, London

'Bent has a marvellous ear for the casual bizarreries of everyday speech and a sharp eye for what is strange about modern life'
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The Independent Culture
In purely geographical terms, Simon Bent's imagination has not had far to travel, since his new play, Goldhawk Road, is set in the very street where the Bush is itself situated. You'd be unlikely to run into any of the characters, though, in this radical pub theatre. They'd be too busy delivering drugs or running up quarterly phone bills of pounds 853 on international calls to hear "Danish lesbians doing it live" or ingeniously claiming that they'd been refused entry to the Jobcentre "because of a dangerous carpet". A karaoke evening would be more up their street, so to speak, than a cutting-edge fringe comedy about chancers and losers at the blunt end.

Enlivened by Bent's marvellous ear for the casual bizarreries and mad jumps of everyday speech and his sharp eye for what is seriously strange about modern living, Goldhawk Road gives an entertaining twist to the long-lost brothers trope (not so much True West as "True W12"). Colin and Reg (equally excellent John Simm and Neil Stuke) are thrown into edgy, mutually irking proximity when Trevor Martin's Paul, an ex-coach driver who is convinced he is sick and dying, writes out of the blue to each of their mothers saying that he'll remember these alleged sons in his will if they come to look after him in his West London terraced house.

Neither youth is exactly brimming with filial concern for the sofa-filling invalid who, by the end, has pulled himself together and done a deal behind their backs with Danny Webb's hyper Ralph, the jumped-up Eighties- style greed-and-instant-gratification junkie for whom the half-brothers have been making drug deliveries. Among the others who have drifted to this fly trap of a house is John (Jack Carr), a coach-driving buddy of Paul's. Further adding to British Telecom's future bonanza from this household, he has to keep making successive calls to the three women who think they are his partner, feeding them with emollient lies over his whereabouts: "We're just leaving Aberdeen" etc.

I rather fancy that, in creating this character, Bent may have been influenced by Chekhov. John's recurring speculations about the distant future - "A hundred years from now and we won't recognise ourselves; we'll be to the future like the ape is to us now" - strongly recall those of Vershinin in Three Sisters, another man with off-stage spouse trouble.

The least successful element in the play and in Paul Miller's largely excellent production is that concerning the middle-aged white cleaner Mary (Elizabeth Bell) who is tracked down at the house by her coloured daughter (Julie Saunders). The staginess of melodrama creeps into the depiction of their difficult relationship (climaxing in a slap across the face and the cry of "Slut - tramp - black trash") and of the mother's worry, that, in the daughter's failing marriage, the past is repeating itself.

As an example of Bent's flair for dialogue, take the moment when Paul disarms and antagonises one of his sons by showing him a snapshot of his mother, possibly topless. "Oh yes. Beautiful. Beautiful dark brown nipples, cooked a lovely hot-pot with swimmers." "Swimmers?" "Dumplings." "She can't cook." "Whose hot-pot was it then?" The cast do full justice to such writing, the only problem being that one of the girls has to keep telling a totally smooth-chested actor what a beautiful hairy chest he has. Or perhaps I'm missing some surreal joke.

n To 3 Feb. (0181-743 3388)

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