Theatre: On the Fringe

THIS WEEK has seen the UK premiere of the first play written by an American and presented at a professional theatre. It has taken us a staggering 211 years to stage Royall Tyler's The Contrast.

The fact that this comedy of manners is so little known to us might be adduced to its lack of artistic merit and/or the vagueness surrounding its status as a dramatic "first": after all, a glance at a reference book tells us that the first play performed in English-speaking America was The Bear and the Cub, in Virginia in 1665, and that many other plays were penned prior to the War of Independence.

What Upstart Crow's eminently watchable production suggests is that, if The Contrast has been overlooked over here, it is not because it is a poor endeavour, but because it is so markedly an endeavour.

Rather than putting his name to it, Tyler, a lawyer and soldier, attributed it to "A citizen of the United States" and the work is a tentative fathoming out of what it might mean to be such a citizen. He also follows a British model while attempting to turn away from it.

The contrast alluded to in the title, it soon emerges, is between two kinds of citizen: one who affects European airs and graces, and another whose relative lack of sophistication is compensated for by a nobility of spirit. The former is the foppish, Chesterfield-quoting Dimple (Matthew Rixon), "a de- praved wretch, whose only virtue is a polished exterior."

He is attempting to break off his engagement to Maria by making advances towards two coquettish friends, Letitia and Charlotte. The latter's brother, a uniform-obsessed colonel, and his dull-witted Yankee servant Jonathan are the butt of many a jibe, but ultimately prove their mettle.

Director Melanie Wynyard keeps the light plot dancing along, and, benefiting from some well-judged comic performances, brings the undated central tussle between self-interest and self-sacrifice to the fore. Her actors frequently address their remarks to the house, sending up the didactic spirit of the piece and softening the pomposity of Tyler's cultural introspection.

There is a vicious contrast in Nick Green's Her Alabaster Skin, just opened at the White Bear in Kennington, between ornate, quietly menacing gangster patter and outrageous thuggery. The first section is not particularly promising, a poor man's Krapp's Last Tape: a nervy, solitary man called Joel Parker (Nick Barra) sits recording advice to his son like a latter- day Chesterfield.

A stack of tapes provides the only furniture other than a table and two chairs. With the arrival of the waiter and, then, the manager of the restaurant upstairs, offering him a free meal to compensate for noise, things turn extremely sour.

Parker soon finds himself stripped naked, bound and gagged, and awaiting unspeakable acts of torture. This is a nasty piece of work, which never quite stops feeling school of Pinter, and structurally it crumples unsatisfyingly in the second half. But insouciant performances (particularly from John O'Byrne's terminally bored serial killer) bring out the remorselessness of Green's dialogue which conjures up clubbable, get-ahead males and the powerlessness of those who lead dreamy, independent lives.

'The Contrast', The Cochrane, WC1 (0171-242 7040) To 17 Oct; 'Her Alabaster Skin', White Bear, London, SE11 (0171-793 9193) To 4 Oct

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world