Theatre: Quiet Night In Tramway, Glasgow

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The Independent Culture
Hmm. Collaboration is a natural theatrical imperative, yet the moment companies start harping on about it like they've just discovered the wheel, alarm bells start sounding and the end result usually sees the said company caught with its pants down and its head squarely up its presumably collective backside. Which makes David Harrower, whose debut last year with Knives in Hens was such a jewel of understated passion, a very brave man indeed.

Quiet Night In is the result of Harrower's long-term working partnership with director Guy Hollands and his KtC company, who presented an austere, mirthless work in progress of the piece earlier this year. Since then things have been fleshed out to include a smattering of cartoon-like characters, making for some much needed levity.

Ostensibly it's about Michael, a photographer returning home after an assignment abroad to find a sea of unopened mail, a stream of ansaphone messages and a to-ing and fro-ing of people demanding his time past, present and future. Among the mail is a video from a former lover on the verge of a crack-up, and the most interesting scenes dove-tail between the video and flashbacks of the pair falling apart. Along the way, there's a comic postman with literary aspirations, Michael's dear old dad and his dead dog, a quartet of anti-road protesters, and the ever-present spectre of a dead colleague.

Whether all this adds up to much is anybody's guess, as it skirts around its apparent themes without ever squaring up to any of them. The relationship between art and commerce, the necessity for personal detachment in the face of world suffering, the struggle for peace, quiet and personal space, the desire for truth and honesty - however brutal - when all the odds are stacked against you; it could be about any of these or none. Whatever, it looks great and is never dull. It tantalises and teases with a marvellous eye for detail and mood, dropping so many hints, you just know it's dying to say something, yet in the end it bottles out, staggers to a close, and leaves its audience dangling. If you weren't in that rehearsal room, you weren't anywhere.

The company's willingness, however, to show a play doing its growing up in public has to be admired - as does Harrower's willingness to stick his neck and reputation on the line both for his conceit that anyone should give a monkey's, as well as for his bravery. At the moment, though, Quiet Night In is at that sulky uncommunicative stage of mid-adolescence, not wanting to give anything away lest it loses its cool. Another draft might sort things, but maybe, like the frustrated postie's book of short stories, Harrower should just throw it away and stick to what he's best at. One only hopes that by the time Harrower's next play proper, Kill the Old, Torture Their Young, appears in 1997, he'll be looking a little more outwards.