Theatre Review: Fairytales with attitude

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HERE'S A novel variation on the Scheherezade predicament. Instead of a damsel spinning stories to postpone her execution, a group of working- class adolescents improvise an extended yarn about a princess, a prince, a dragon, a witch and a crampingly joyless father to distract a gang of their cockier peers from dangling studious and creative Jake (Nitzan Sharron) over the edge of a block of council flats.

That's the set-up in Sparkleshark, the final instalment in Philip Ridley's story-telling trilogy unveiled now in Terry Johnson's gutsy production. On the press afternoon, the Lyttelton theatre was full of school groups who seemed to be having a good time, but I have to admit I was distracted through stupidly taking a seven-year-old, two years lower than the minimum suggested age limit. During the show, she evinced little interest in the piece's hermetically teenage preoccupations. Afterwards, though, I was left blustering when asked to explain what "tonsil hockey" means.

None the less, I feel Sparkleshark shares many of the defects of its predecessor. Apocalyptica focused on a group of refugees who tried to help a traumatised little boy come to terms with the moral atrocities he had witnessed by telling him stories. The sheer fancifulness of supposing that Bosnians in such circumstances would be reaching for their Bruno Bettelheim, rather than, say, foraging for food and water is repeated, if in toned-down form here, in the idea that this motley collection of youths could ever forget themselves so far as to embark on a fairy story. Well, perhaps when they have finished embroidering their buttercup costumes...

All the personnel - including the plain sidekick who has been dropped by her bitchy best friend and who forlornly fancies Russell, "the turbot dream babe" (played with a likeably idiotic strutting conceit by Chiwetel Ejiofor) - have problems that, of course, they grow to understand better as these are transposed into fiction.

Cast as a frog by her unkind friend, Kellie Bright's sidekick comes to realise that her identity changes according to the person she's with. Why, in the company of some people, she's a lovely sleek cat! So there's somebody who'll be standing with her head held higher and on her own four paws in future.

The show contains some entertaining shifts of register between fairy story-speak and the idiom of contemporary yoof. But even these jokes merely emphasise the fundamental implausibility. "The story belongs to all of us," the adult cast cries. Tell me another.

Daytime performances in rep to 25 June (0171-452 3000)