Theatre: More tales of the city

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The Independent Culture
"OH, FUCKING HELL, I've got a lesbian in me!" wails the hulking bouncer of the Paradise Club in Murray Gold's shrewdly witty and enjoyable new play. I've seen a protagonist's "inner child" projected as a separate person before but this is the first instance I can recall of a white male character's "feminine side" being externalised as a formidably butch black dyke (Michele Austin) who knees him viciously in the groin when he expresses incredulity.

It was never likely that the anima of this unreconstructedly sexist doorman would turn out to be a withdrawn Emily Dickinson-type, but though the bouncer and his satellite-self are hot for the same girl, their seduction techniques prove to be wildly different. "You're a strange man," cries the baffled object of their joint interest. "Why call me a man at all? It's so hurtful," purrs the feminine side as she shimmies around her.

Sexual confusion and complicatedly screwed-up relationships are rife in this drama, which follows disparate groups of characters as they keep intersecting in a dreamy, druggie night-time London. Having fashionably proclaimed that heterosexuals should learn from the gay community about how to avoid turning love into oppression, the perplexed actor Peter (Nathaniel Parker) finds himself hoist by his own petard when he falls for Nicola Walker's programmatically tough Linda, who could write a textbook on the justifications for her having several partners at once.

The agonising tensions this creates lead to an explosive scene where Peter's frustrations erupt in a lava-flow of misogynist obscenity which keeps comically freezing while, directly to the audience, he calculates the damage ("That's it finished, I should think. There's no road back from `cunt'") of the insults he can't control.

Dominic Dromgoole's entertaining production sometimes looks a bit rickety, and there's also a pronounced unevenness in the writing. On the one hand, the scene where two homeless women wander onto the stage at the first- night performance of a neo-angry play (entitled Cod With Everything) comes over as too crude and untextured a gambit for exposing the bad faith and mixed motives of those involved in social protest art. On the other hand, there's real satiric vitality in the speech where Cod's agonised, obsessive, young author (Francis Lee) ties himself in hilariously self-serving ideological knots while rehearsing his imminent interview with a journalist from the hateful Murdoch press.

Yes, the piece would have more impact in a studio space and yes, the plot lines could have more dynamism as they head for their literal collision. But the talent is genuine and it's better to have imperfectly structured abundance than streamlined emptiness.

To 25 Sept, 0171-369 1735