theatre Paul Taylor Splendid's, Lyric Hammersmith

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The Independent Culture
Kafka instructed his friend Max Brod to burn his unpublished works after his death. The fact that he didn't put the match to them himself suggests that he may have been in two minds about the matter. Leaving rather fewer hostages to fortune, Genet ripped up before aghast witnesses what they presumed to be the only manuscript of his 1948 play Splendid's, but modern drama's favourite pederast had taken the precaution of lodging another copy with his publisher. Neil Bartlett now translates and directs the English premier of this work which, from his description, sounds decidedly intriguing: "a text in which we hear queens playing for time, playing gangsters, playing Queens in a film noir by Racine by Genet". The production, alas, makes Splendid's seem as hollow a charade as Genet's apparent destruction of it.

The dramatic premise is certainly ripe with promise. Holed up on the seventh floor of the eponymous luxury hotel are a posse of sub-machine gun wielding, tuxedoed gangsters who have kidnapped the daughter of an American millionaire. Police have surrounded the building and are holding fire because they do not know that the hostage has been killed. The only way of buying time in which these effete hoodlums can prolong their bickering power games and decadent musings on role play and illusion is by persuading the cops that the girl is still alive. To do that, Everett Clinton, bald, perplexed gang leader, is forced to take a stroll on the ledge outside, clad in the deceased's Dior gown, make-up and jewellery.

Played on a darkened corridor set, Bartlett's production contains powerful sequences, as in that transvestite ledge walk, where you can almost believe that queeniness is next to godliness. There are moments, too, when you are persuaded that for the men here to succumb to the luxury of cowardice would be less a sell-out than an act of defiance, a refusal to play according to the agreed script in their relationship with the police. (The irony is that it causes the policeman-turned-gangster to revert to type in disgust.)

A good deal of the evening , though, is hard to take seriously. Julian Clary, a performer who is incapable of delivering a line without making it sound like sibilant innuendo, yet whose deadpan, faintly embarrassed demeanour is quite surburban in its lack of threat, is disastrously miscast as the gangster who yearns for dangerous extremes. It was noticeable that whenever Clary wasn't bringing his special something to lines like "Well tonight I'm sticking to anyone and everyone", he looked completely out of it. Queeniness is perhaps too much the norm in a production where even the radio announcer talks in camp italics (police officers armed with grenades"). It makes you wonder just what, in that world, a Julian Clary- equivalent would be like.

n To 15 July (Box-office: 0181-741 2311)

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