THEATRE / Plaster ducks, wooden action: Paul Taylor on the dogmatism and doggishness of April De Angelis's Hush at the Royal Court

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THREE soaring plaster ducks are fixed to the great black sky of Sally Jacobs's set at the Royal Court, which surrealistically merges the inside of a seaside cottage with the wintry beach beyond. It seems a droll stroke until you reflect that plaster ducks are a pretty rare species in the homes of successful magazine journalists and / or radical activists (the occupations of, respectively, the house's current and its former owner). This dubious wall decoration is not the only feature of April De Angelis's Hush that shows a cavalier attitude to what is convincing and what isn't.

The play concerns a group of people gathered to mark the first anniversary of the disappearance (suicide? accidental death by drowning?) of Jo, a committed leftist. Inevitably, as the day progresses, the proceedings turn into a post-mortem on political radicalism and raise the question of what society can offer a girl such as Jo's 15-year-old daughter, Rosa (Dervla Kerwin). She is putting on a front of truculent indifference to her mother's anniversary and pops down to the beach to have joyless, unprotected sex with a mentally disturbed, homeless youth (Andy Serkis). Clearly not a girl for half- measures.

The play is a peculiar mixture of cardboard characterisation and wooden speechifying on the one hand, and mad spurts of farce and quirkily comic dialogue on the other. One moment you're expected to yelp with detached laughter, when Rosa's proper, pragmatic aunt, Louise (Marion Bailey), has to account to a visiting Communist for the stark-naked, tied-up, literally barking presence of Serkis in her sitting-room; the next, you're invited to see the youth's state as symbolic (it was only by the ironic process of going mad and turning himself into a dog that Dogboy, as the programme calls him, could get any of the attention owing to him as a human being).

The aunt is beginning to lose patience with her wet, self-preoccupied young lover (excellent Stephen Dillane), who represents - in his woolly, ineffectual optimism and his retreat into an art he deludedly believes will be a force for change - one of the various inadequate responses to the world the play puts on show. He is supposed to be a mediocre post-modern novelist, and his need for constant reassurance about his fiction is handled amusingly. As a character he is blunted, though, because the bits he reads out from his work-in-progress are too ridiculous to serve as examples of anything but De Angelis's bizarre sense of humour.

The characters seem to hail from such contradictory genres (Debra Gillett as a gabby cleaner full of New Age sayings and daydreams of Tibet is straight out of sitcom) and the drama plays so fast and loose with your feelings that, even in Max Stafford-Clark's skilled, well-acted production, it's impossible to muster much genuine interest or sympathy for any of these people. There are times, though, when De Angelis seems to be writing a sublime spoof of her own play - there's the deathless moment, for example, when a soliloquising Louise asks her dead sister why she called her daughter Rosa: 'It's quite a lot to live up to, Jo. Political martyrdom.'

Hush has a good theme, but messes it up. Indeed, the most intriguing question it raises is why a work that so clearly should have been tried out at the Theatre Upstairs has been exposed to the main house.

Box office: 071-730 1745.