Theatre: On The Fringe

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WALK THROUGH the doors of the Young Vic Studio at the moment, and you're propelled into a different world. Sky-blue carpet stretches all around; a single banquette hugs the walls; pan-piped carols come fluting over the speakers. While this mock-up of a corporate lobby area may be a source of delight for audience-members, it represents a career coffin for the five poor sods who drop by to audition for a life insurance ad.

Strike Gently, Away from Body, by Kathrina Lindsay and Rufus Norris, is for anyone who has found themselves competing for a bottom-drawer job and wondered how things came to such a dire pass. Despite the depressing premise, the play wrings much quirky comedy from the truism that life doesn't always go according to plan.

At first, the humour lies in the grouchy way four youngish "hopefuls" acknowledge each other's presence. With the arrival of an older candidate, Nathan, who asks for a light then keels over, the action rewinds to include contemporaneous inner monologues and fleeting memories. The fragments - the traumas of boarding school, say, or the joys of teenage crushes - are sometimes irritatingly lightweight, but Norris, who directs, allows them to flow swiftly along together, forming a stream of shared consciousness in which you suddenly catch your own reflection. Among a clutch of nicely off-hand performances, Ed Bishop charms as Nathan, an old-timer who doubts his "three lemons will come up", but who carries on gambling that his life will improve all the same.

At age 23, Israeli playwright, Oren Lavie, still has a long way to go, but on the strength of Lighting the Day, he should travel hopefully.

This is a sweetly melancholic, boldly metaphorical tale of an aspiring young writer (Allen) who loses his impulsive French lover (Danielle) to the nightowl jazz musician who lives upstairs. Danielle defects because, as a hyper-insomniac, she craves round-the-clock artistic companionship.

The piece feels overlong, dragged out by snoozy ballads and a slightly tedious self-reflexiveness but Lavie has some fresh, lyrical turns of phrase. As director, he also achieves striking effects with slight means: sitting at his typewriter in pitch darkness, for example, Neal Foster's Allen switches his desk-lamp on and off, his repeatedly illuminated furrowed brow testifying to hours spent waiting for his muse.

There are some equally assured verbal and visual effects in Genesis, the second part of Tara Arts' epic Journey to the West trilogy. This time, the focus is on the 30,000 Indians who left home at the end of the last century to build the East African Railway.

The hardships that prompted them to leave and those they endured when they arrived are distilled into a handful of stories, the principal one of which involves a wife cross-dressing in order to follow her husband through the swamps.

There are points when casual asides and narrative twists are hard to follow but the play's director, Jatinder Verma, arranges his seven-strong cast with a choreographer's eye: against a backdrop of black-and-white film footage, the company lift, swing and pound away with wooden staves, conjuring everything from a tempest-tossed ship to backbreaking railroad tracks, while Najma Akhtar's shimmering vocals, and musician Ansuman Biswas's persistent percussion transport you far, far away.

`Strike Gently, Away from Body' to 11 Dec (0171-928 6363); `Lighting the Day' to Sat (0171-240 6283); `Genesis' tours to Walthamstow and Wembley (0181-333 4457)