Theatre: On the Fringe

Richard III BAC - Yerma BAC - Into The Darkness Laughing New End Theatre
RICHARD III was reportedly the first of Shakespeare's play to make it to America, and this Oddbodies adaptation certainly reflects the cultural exchange. Paul de Ville Morel's Richard has ditched the hunchback for a rock'n'roll drumkit and a pair of sunglasses, providing a percussive patter to bring out the violence and brashness in Shakespeare's text at the same time as it satirises it. His accomplice, Tanya Scott-Wilson, adds both to the viciousness and the comedy, distorting her face through a repertoire of Rabelaisian grotesquerie as she runs a gamut of roles from priest to assassin. These are the only actors you need to know about, for - like those who competed with Richard for the right to succession - their numbers have been savagely cut down, leaving a cast of two.

Shakespeare would have loved this interpretation of his play. Although little is known of his political and religious views, there is no doubting his passion for words as multi-dimensional phenomena, capable of reflecting a wide range of undercurrents in any situation. The duo's ironic take on the play unearths new comic meanings without altering any of the Bard's text. For instance, when Scott-Wilson, as a gurning assassin sent to murder George, Duke of Malmesbury, whispers "Look behind you" to her victim, it's pure pantomime.

Earlier, when the same Duke minces on to the stage and says he has been sent to the Tower "because my name is [flounce] George", the line gets laughs as a piece of over-sensitive foppery, as well as emphasising the tragedy that Edward IV has persecuted him, rather than Richard, Duke of Gloucester, because he has misinterpreted the warning that he will be overpowered by somebody whose name begins with "G".

This is a funny, clever and beautifully edited production. Scott-Wilson's stunning rubber-faced skills work well with de Ville Morel's funky stage presence. Is it a coincidence that a man playing Richard III should have a name that sounds like "devil morals", or that his drumkit should be called Premier? Whatever, there is no doubt that while some of the text adapts well to rock'n'roll, other parts - such as Lady Anne's protests to Richard that her dead husband's wounds "Open their congeal'd mouths and bleed afresh" - would be equally at home in a Lorca play.

There's a lot of Lorca about at the moment, and Adrian Linford's set for Yuval Zamir's production of Yerma taps into his visceral preoccupations using a white, blood-spattered curtain as backdrop.

The sound effects heighten the sense of bubbling frustration in the play: as Yerma - whose name means "barren" - cries out about her longing for a baby, the sound of a gushing stream contrasts cruelly with her enforced infertility. Galit Hershkovitz, in the role of Yerma, rises to the challenge of conveying the play's passion, but there are times when there is no core to her emotion, and it seems that she is just shouting. When it comes to explosive frustration Catherine Cusack, who plays the artist Modigliani's mistress in Patrice Chaplin's play Into the Darkness Laughing, is a far better embodiment.

Cusack gives a focused and moving performance as the young Jeanne Hebuterne, the girl who has watched love for a genius evaporate into poverty and alienation. Her alcoholic lover lies dying of tubercular meningitis off stage, as she desperately seeks for non-existent hope through memories of their early romance.

She is supported by Mel Raido who, as the mentally ill Maurice Utillo, is superb. There are problems with the pacing, but otherwise - in this theatre that was formerly a mortuary - it's a thoughtful, if harrowing, evening out.

`Richard III' is at BAC, London SW11 (0171-223 2223) to 30 May; `Yerma' is at BAC to 13 Jun; `Into the Darkness Laughing' is at New End, London NW3 (0171-794 0022) to 13 Jun