THEATRE REVIEWS

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The Independent Culture
The Winter's Tale

Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford (01789 295623)

Better than any Leontes I have seen, Antony Sher shows that the king's manic mistrust is not so much an outbreak of evil as a kind of massive mid-life crisis, at once frightening, farcical and pathetic. The receding walls of Robert Jones's set close in on him as he regresses into a crouched, childishly sobbing yet mercilessly vindictive breakdown-victim. With his wife superbly played by Alexandra Gilbreath, this is a Tale impressively told.

Paul Taylor

Perfect Days

Hampstead Theatre, London NW1 (0171-722 9301)

Liz Lochhead's strenuously heart-warming piece is designed to have you brushing away a tear while splitting your sides. Siobhan Redmond is marvellous as Barbs, a 39-year-old Glaswegian hairdresser who runs through her ex, her gay friend and more to make a baby and is as garrulous and profligate with the one-liners as a stand-up comedienne. But the tactlessness of the tragicomic disclosures is too mechanical to be properly telling.

Paul Taylor

The Memory of Water

Vaudeville Theatre, London W1 (0171-836 9987)

In Shelagh Stephenson's often wickedly funny and moving play, three sisters return to their Yorkshire childhood home for the interment of their mother. A riotously well-observed look at the social strains of bereavement, the play is also a shrewd meditation on the subjective and self-preserving nature of memory. Samantha Bond is a very credible irritant to her siblings - Julia Sawalha and a magnificent Alison Steadman. Terry Johnson's production keeps skilful control of the tone, and Stephenson is certainly a talent to watch.

Paul Taylor

Freebird

Bristol New Vic Studio (0117-927 7466)

Jon Ivay makes a valiant stab at the road-movie genre with his play about three motor-cycle couriers on their way to Cornwall in search of a cannabis farm - a tale which gradually transforms itself into a bad trip, in every sense. With its saddlebags full of humour and pathos, this is a very British Easy Rider. Unfortunately, the second act fails to live up to the promise of the first, but that shouldn't overshadow a pleasant evening of humour, recreational drug use and loud rock music.

Toby O'Connor Morse

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