THEATRE Halloween Night Rough Magic, Dublin

Combining the peer-group reunion idea of his Digging for Fire with the blackly ironic use of the supernatural in New Morning, Declan Hughes's sardonic new play, Halloween Night, slots into the Donmar Warehouse next week after its Dublin run. Again, Hughes is concerned with urban, university-educated adolescents in their early 30s, coverging on yet another vapid, unhappy, evening of alcohol; here, in a house on the west coast of Ireland, on a night when dead souls are supposed to be roaming the earth.

Decked out in Rocky Horror fancy dress, the characters individually unfurl in the low-lit cottage, with its skull-candles and Close Encounters light-shafts from the bottomless booze fridge. Pom Boyd's black-lace vamp, Melanie, is still roughed up after her affair with Paul Hickey's Eamonn. Jenni Ledwell's twittering PR woman is a wilder caricature; paired off with the exquisite vocal projection of Simon O'Gorman's quiet, serious type - dolled up as a Dickensian undertaker.

Again written close to stereotype, Anne Byrne's brittle Caroline provides an unctuous sex-cushion for Eanna MacLiam's Paddy, a raving ex-junkie film-maker. Meanwhile, Miche Doherty's aging rent-boy, David, arrives with his new, still-married lover (Sean Rocks), uncomfortably talcum-powdered into butch-rubber Nazi gear.

Everyone is waiting for George, especially David, who has never quite recovered from loving him, and here, the spook factor cranks in. George's death, of Aids incidentally, is delivered by an apparition of his American friend (Arthur Riordan). Then comes an impossible answering-machine message and the characters ramp off into stoned epiphanies, which decay back into mutual savagery.

Played out self-consciously in front of Gericault's angry painting The Raft of the Medusa, this is not an altogether satisfying play. It provides serious challenges for Rough Magic's Lynne Parker, whose stylish, speedy direction sometimes bogs down in the relentless smart-arse rhetoric.

There are highly amusing evocations of, em, post-modernity ("history is history, man"); but somehow the wider aspects of the ugly characters - their selfish individualism in love, the awfulness of Aids, abortion, etc - are bulldozed into the snide rubble of the satire. Despite their disturbing under-tow, it's hard to know what is achieved here, beyond the edgy chill of hauling them into the half-light of a harshly comic ghost story.

Opens at the Donmar, London on Tues. Booking: 0171-369 1732; runs to 19 April

Comments