THEATRE: Noise Soho Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture
Alex Jones's Noise taps, with great effectiveness, into the primitive fear that we are just a thin wall away from violence and chaos. As the plays of Pinter have repeatedly proved, theatre is the ideal medium for exploring the vulnerability of personal space and territorial threat. Here, a couple of teenage newly-weds and parents to be from the Black Country has just moved into a bleak, one-room housing association flat. But their dreams of a fresh start in their own little family unit are shattered when they discover that they are living next door to a maniac, with martial arts training, who plays pounding techno music during the night. When they eventually pluck up the courage to complain, life turns into a waking nightmare.

Jones's Brummy-dialect script and Mark Brickman's powerful, persuasively active production on a shoebox-like set by Gideon Davey make each stage of the ordeal all too believable. At the start, comically and touchingly, Samantha Edmonds's Becky and Graham Bryan's Dan show you a couple who can't get over the weirdness, at their age, of playing mums and dads for real in their own place.

She's been disowned by her parents, he's just got his first proper job. As they unpack their pathetically meagre belongings and a jokingly randy Dan suggests that they make the most of Becky's pregnancy-swollen breasts, there's a feeling of hope and apprehension - a natural fear of the responsibility they've landed themselves with, too young and without support. Then the racket starts.

We don't see the hulking neighbour Matt (Andrew Tiernan superbly conveying the coiled up rage and headcase unpredictability) until the start of the second half when, notified of their complaint by the association, he confronts Becky alone in her flat. It's a beautifully structured scene with the girl lulled into a false sense of security as she dispenses tea and listens to Matt's shy, grateful talk about how good it is to have a conversation with a normal person when you're going off your head, stuck in a rabbit hutch, jobless, 24 hours a day. There's even room for fellow feeling here because, for Becky too, flat life has become stifling. But Matt's mocking nihilism and Becky's righteously expressed stake in the future ("So all I need to do is get pregnant?" he jests) grate against each other and, after a few tension-inducing conversational twists and permission to touch her stomach to feel the baby, the mixed-up gentle giant turns into a deranged would-be rapist.

Her attempt to ease the situation by being friendly has backfired and intensified the pressure. As the play moves towards the climax whose menacing violence had one woman in the first-night audience sprinting to the exit, Jones paints an alarming picture of a society oppressed by fear and injustice where people are left to go mad in boxes with only a sound system to obliterate the space between the walls and where these sick individuals can so terrorise communities that people are too frightened to go to the police.

For me, the most harrowing scene was the final one with the drained couple packing up to leave, having lost their baby and perhaps their raison d'etre. Will their love survive a parting while she goes to rest at her parents and he looks for somewhere else? Outside, leaving them on edge through noise to the last, the impatient pipping on his car horn of the father who has come to reclaim his little girl.

To 26 April (0171-420 0022)