Theatre: Review: The best things in life come in threes

PIRANDELLO 3X3 NEW END, HAMPSTEAD LONDON
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The Independent Culture
CONSIDERING THAT the playwright Pirandello was Sicilian through and through and that he had strong views on dialect and nationalism, it's surprising how he tends to come across as ineffably English in our stagings of him.

I can't offhand recall seeing a single imported Italian production of this great dramatist (if I have, please write in and remind me.) This is a shame because it would be help us to identify more precisely the elusive dimension that always seems to be missing in even the best of British Pirandello. One imagines that in his native element, there's a more marked painful tension between the guts of passion and the game-playing metaphysics, that the energy compressed beneath the endless series of masks is somehow more volcanic.

Nevertheless, this triple bill of short three-handers directed by Simon Cox for Enter the Spirit Productions, is as mysteriously beguiling an evening on the Fringe as I believe you would find anywhere. Yet, despite the Italianate green marble of Kerry Bradley's stylish design, there were moments during I'm Dreaming, or Am I? when I felt that, overlaying Pirandello, was the spirit of one of those wonderful Michael Frayn sketches that Eleanor Bron and John Fortune used to perform on television. And during Cece, I was occasionally assailed by a strong sense that the central couple (vividly played by Peter Bailie and Polly Maberly) were Ian Carmichael and Just William's sister Ethel in an improbable encounter in a swanky Roman hotel room.

If there's no entirely satisfactory way out of the problem, perhaps the only solution is to present the riddling, dream-like quality of some of these works with the kind of witty, honest conviction that is brought to bear on them here.

In I'm Dreaming or Am I, performed with beautifully timed black-outs and weird resumptions, the barrier between the dream world and the real world is gradually blurred, as a young woman wakes from a nightmare ending with her current lover on the point of strangling her. He is jealous that her former lover has returned from abroad and that she desires the expensive gift of a pearl necklace that he is struggling to afford for her. Then a servant arrives with the pearl necklace, whereupon the current lover appears and a scene eerily like the one in her dream restarts.

Not for nothing was one of Pirandello's greatest works entitled The Rules of the Game. In Cece, the first play on this bill, a young man uses IOUs (an IOU for an eye, an IOU for a tooth) as a way of suborning both a male and female friend to his will.

And in the haunting The Man With A Flower in His Mouth, a traveller who has missed his train is waylaid in a cafe by a man who, it slowly emerges, has a cancer growing under his lip which accounts for his strange, detached, almost posthumous curiosity in the life around him. Strongly recommended.

Paul Taylor To 19 Dec (0171-794 0022)

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