Theatre: Pictures at an execution

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The Independent Culture
TOLD BY an Idiot's homage to Federico Garcia Lorca tells us little we didn't already know, in factual terms, about the poet and playwright. It is primarily an account of the friendship between Lorca, Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel while they were studying at the Residencia in Madrid in 1923, and does not seek to examine the importance of this rare convergence of talent.

What it does do, in exploring the nature of the friendship, is bring two well known facts into closer proximity: Lorca's sexuality, and his brutal fate at the hands of the Fascists at the onset of the Spanish Civil War. Broadly irreverent, and fleetingly poignant, I Weep at My Piano creates striking visual correspondences between Lorca's unrequited desires and his lonely death.

The piece is framed as a flashback during the moment of execution - at the start, a woman (Hayley Carmichael) dressed in a man's baggy suit walks along a narrow walkway and kneels. This threatened moment of extinction haunts all the subsequent action, an hour of morbid games-playing and story-telling loaded with dramatic irony. No attempt is made to imitate the famous trio, or to put on accents - the audience even has to deduce who has been assigned which role, as no explanation is given in the programme, and the characters trail off when greeting each other ("You must be..." "Yes"). The costumes (sombreros, flowing scarves, cloaks) resemble Spanish fancy dress. Naomi Wilkinson's wonderful Dali-esque set, dominated by a surreal apartment room on stilts punctured by a large treetrunk, evokes a warped playground that, depending on the lighting, can seem heavenly or hellish.

There are times when the agile cast, directed by Paul Hunter, take such a whimsical route that you lose them completely. But the youthful exuberance is always traceable as the source of Lorca's pain - a means of bonding that prevents real proximity.

Richard Clews's bald, gangly Dali leaps away in horror every time Carmichael starts to edge her lips in his direction. Her Lorca is a lovably unlovable joker, at one point repeatedly pretending to kick the bucket to raise everyone's spirits: a drop-dead-gorgeous performance.

Dominic Cavendish

Booking: 0171-223 2223; to 31 January