THEATRE / How the other half lives

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ARRIVING IN Scarborough a fortnight ago with a few hours to spare before Alan Ayckbourn's new play, I took a twilight walk around the harbour. On the darkened jetties there was plenty of business going on between the fishing boats and the warehouses and offices; facing the sea was a string of desolate amusement arcades, pumping out noise and dazzle for a few dejected-looking teenagers, and coming to a stop at the 'House of Mystery and Coffee Parlour' where Richard III may or may not have spent the night. Ayckbourn, in all his 46 plays, has never touched on this world on his doorstep; and the job has now been done by Simon Bent in Bad Company.

Bent's young characters are well aware of Ayckbourn's theatre; but even off season, with 'No Max Jaffa at the Spa, or Little and Large to cheer us up', none of them fancies a night out at Valley Bridge Parade seeing a play, 'about posh people, without any scenery'. They have deadening jobs in local hotels and factories; they lounge around the deserted harbour, killing the time with football or petty crime, dreaming of cars and girls; most of all, dreaming of getting out of Scarborough. So when Paul (Kemal Sylvester) returns home after six months in London, he becomes the focus of their collective fantasies.

As played by Paul Miller's company, there is not one stereotype among them. 'S'not everyone can be a receptionist,' says Nicola Sanderson with a complacent smirk, and off she sails into her own comic life. Likewise Gary Sefton as a Yorkshire loyalist whose idea of home-town honour is beating defectors to a pulp; and Paul Wyett as the innocently good-natured Billy whose doleful sing-song delivery can make a line like 'I love the smell of rubber' irresistibly funny. Plot, though, is another matter. In canvassing interest in Paul, a hero struggling to define his sexual preferences, Mr Bent tells the old story of the man with a secret, leading to the transparently predictable disclosure that his only success in the big city was as a reluctant rent boy. Paul's manner of guarding this secret turns him into an evasive boor, forever spurning eager girls and squelching other people's plans without making any of his own. You can understand why the other kids are fascinated with him, but not why we are supposed to share their fascination. Still, the author has put a new bit of Britain on the theatrical map, the performances are terrific, and however slack the story, the narrative rhythm is as full of bounce as a trampoline.

In The Curse of the Werewolf, a family of well-to-do Brits visit an old German friend, who happens to run a dubious psychiatric clinic in a woodland schloss. Before you can say Vlad Dracul, the virginal daughter, Kitty, has been abducted by a big bad wolf suspiciously resembling the Baron who has just been serenading her. Ken Hill's latest excursion into jazz-age Gothic should please the fans of his Invisible Man. The special effects are not so sophisticated, but the plotting and score (Ian Armit and Carl Zeller) are a treat, particularly where they use the conventions of 1920s musical comedy to subvert the Grand Guignol.

Let me instance a skating party, led by Toni Palmer in blonde pigtails, which finally sweeps the resident ghouls - Terrence Hardiman's vampire doctor linking hands with the metal claw of Bogdan Kominowski's black leather police chief - into an oom-pahing Black Forest stomp, which is so wholesome that you can't wait for them to return to the Walpurgisdorf laboratory and get the hypodermics into Diana Morrison's radiant snow queen. Hill's shows are supposed to be harmless fun; but he goes back to Joan Littlewood's time at Stratford East, and has made his mark by letting different types of privileged entertainment tear each other to shreds. His shows generally contain a giveaway line. Here it refers to Steven Pacey's charming, night- prowling Baron: 'There's nothing so vicious,' says the claw-handed Otto, 'as a cornered aristocrat.'

Wittgenstein's Daughter 'is not about philosophy', states its author, Dic Edwards. Nor is it about actual people. It tells the story of a French fascist's wife, Alma, who falsely supposes herself the philosopher's daughter, and seeks out what remains of his past in Cambridge in the hope of refreshing her own value system before giving birth to a child. The development, involving a 100-year-old disciple of Wittgenstein, a ghostly return of the man himself and an alarming flashback to the scene of conception with Alma playing her own mother, contains some comically sinister scene-building which progressively cantilevers the play's action out into the void. To come clean: Mr Edwards is clearly a talent, but I haven't a clue what his play is about. Sample Roland Rees's production, though, and you are at least assured of eloquent performances by Jonathan Moore and Roger Monk.

'Bad Company', Bush, 081-743 3388. 'The Curse of the Werewolf', Theatre Royal, Stratford East, 081-534 0310. 'Wittgenstein's Daughter', White Bear, 071-793 9193.

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