Theatre: On the fringe

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
I'VE HEARD of product placement, but A Special Offer really takes the biscuit and poses with it. Where most firms that help out small productions have to content themselves with a token mention on an A4 programme-sheet, Sharps Bedrooms gets top billing in the rising theatre designers Alice Power's and Alice Purcell's contribution to the London International Mime Festival: an entire "Buckingham" suite has been built in the Young Vic studio, and Sharps' logo is displayed on a help desk.

But the bedding people must have a sense of humour, as, in dissecting the consumerist heart of modern coupledom, A Special Offer mocks the sterile aesthetic of the ideal home and the fitted interior. A prematurely middle- aged husband and wife (Mick Barnfather and Lisa Gornick), run through precisely observed daily routines with no sense of progression but a continual air of self-congratulation. They go to bed, wake up, make the bed, and immediately wind down again, droning on about gardening, commuting and other couples. Their relationship is as sexless as their red satin shiny duvet.

Insistent pan-piped Muzak (courtesy of Nigel Piper, a John Hegley acolyte); customer announcements - ("Mr Fisher has been separated from his wife"); and the intrusions of a opera-singing shop assistant (Rebecca Gale) - threaten to expose the relationship as a bizarre sales ploy. But even when the wigs are off, the behaviour remains resolutely display-oriented.

There are some angsty confessionals in which each partner outlines his or her frustrations and fears for their individuality, but banality gets the upper hand. "I feel I want to say something about world peace, but I'm not sure what it is," the wife says, adding, after a beat: "I'm not looking forward to the menopause."

At times it feels as though the scenario is too two-dimensional to provide wall-to-wall interest. But bursts of surreal activity (animal impersonations, a perfect spoof Black Magic ad) keep your eyes fixed on Barnfather and Gornick - a great bad couple. It's an impertinent reminder that there's more to life than making a bed and lying in it.

Threesome, by Laurence Pritchard, also risks being as boring as the dead-end lives of its protagonists, but is so wryly scripted and so beautifully performed in Ken McClymont's Old Red Lion production that it leaves you hooked.

Easy and Scruff (James Thornton and Rob Jarvis) are two flat-sharing drifters bound together by their druggy clubbing days, but tension starts mounting when it emerges that Scruff has been associating with Easy's ex, Ruth (Raquel Cassidy), and with vicious dealers at the notorious club where Easy was once a DJ. The shifting balances of power are ably charted. Well worth a look.

`Threesome', Old Red Lion, EC1 (0171-837 7816), to 30 Jan; `A Special Offer', Young Vic, London, SE1 (0171-928 6363)