Theatre: On the Fringe

A Trinity of Two Tristan Bates Theatre n The Tempest Lincoln's Inn n Blue Funk/Hospitality Old Red Lion
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The Independent Culture
TAKE TWO men and choose whom you would rather dine with. One is a conversational artist and wit, with one-liners destined to keep people going for more than a century; the other a doggedly determined lawyer with earnest views on Ulster politics and a disdain for all frivolity. To bask in the company of one of these men is automatically to question the entertainment value of the other. Consider this, and you can begin to see the difficulties of staging a uniformly interesting evening made up of their parallel monologues.

However, in A Trinity of Two, acclaimed biographer and playwright Ulick O'Connor has used the contrast between the two to achieve the practically impossible task of saying something a little bit new about Oscar Wilde. Wilde and his nemesis - the barrister Edward Carson - were contemporaries at Trinity College Dublin, and when they met at the Old Bailey in 1895 they had years of mutual loathing behind them. O'Connor has staged a tidy trick through this initially slightly starched theatre of monologues: for the artificiality inherent in the pair's presentation of their lives turns easily into the ritual rigidity of the courtroom scenes which dominate the play's second half. It also throws into harsher relief the provocative analogy drawn at the end of the play: that both are ultimately victims of the British government - Wilde because of its hypocritical stance on homosexuality, Carson because of its duplicitous take on the Unionist politics which he so ardently championed.

John Yule, the director, has created a low-key production, emphasising the subtlety and reflectiveness of O'Connor's portraits of both his protagonists. The conflicting texture of their characters sometimes creates problems for the play's momentum, but Harry Towb, as Carson, manages to show a touching vulnerability through his dogged lawyer-speak while Sean Kearns dons Wilde's mantle with a languid ease, performing the historic one-liners and intellectual snobbery with an insouciance entirely in keeping with Wilde's glittering solipsism.

It is intrinsic to Wilde's immortality that he could never be accused, as one of the characters in The Tempest is, of ponderously "winding up the watch of his wit/ By and by it will strike". However, Wilde would probably not be averse to indulging in the hedonistic atmosphere of the AandBC Theatre company's production of this play, which is set in the opulent grounds of Lincoln's Inn, and lit by the light of a glorious, large portable moon. You know at once that it is going to be one of those productions which indulges in gleeful and successful innovation: for a start the audience are sat on barrels in the middle of the action, and told to keep turning on their seats since the performance will be coming at them from all angles. As indeed it does - and the buttock swivelling is worth it - not only for the sight of actors forming a giddy carnivalesque ensemble against the backdrop of one of Britain's leading legal institutions, but also to experience David Fielder's deeply anguished and powerful performance as Prospero.

The other highlight is director Gregory Thompson's decision to realise the character of Ariel as the entire cast, (Prospero aside), which capers round the audience forming an echoing, laughing chorus, adding to the sense of the mischievous omnipresence of Ariel's magic. This is a world far removed from the cynical observations of the double bill, Hospitality and Blue Funk, which takes different perspectives on how people exploit each other, and turns them into intelligent performance pieces about 1990s relationships.

Mark Cameron is sinisterly energetic as the man who inspires simultaneous worship and self-destruction in Blue Funk, while Marie McCarthy is impressive as the executive sex tigress recovering from breast-cancer in Hospitality. An unusual blend of sleaze and tragedy. Go and be challenged.

`A Trinity of Two'(0171-240 3940) to 7 Aug; `The Tempest' (0870-870 1023) to 28 Aug; `Blue Funk/Hospitality' (0171-837 7816) to 7 Aug