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The Independent Culture

Lyric, Hammersmith, London, W6 (0181-741 2311)

Frantic Assembly has come of age. In this tremendous club-culture-style show, characters loom out of the darkness from four gleaming metallic ladders. Gradually, director Liam Steel aligns movement with meaning, so that after the performers' slithering descent you are entertained by sequences such as a lads' drinking-session choreographed in swoops of back-patting and beer-bottles. Pumping music raises your heart-rate, and painful male emotions are made physical in explosive, lyrical choreography.

Rachel Halliburton


RSC, Stratford-on-Avon (01789 40403)

Greg Doran's production moves with the murderously incisive swiftness of a slasher's knife, an object lesson in the difference between mere speed and sheer momentum. Antony Sher, laughingly mad-eyed and with his blood up, lets you see that virtual civil war in Scotland has been a liberating experience. Ruthlessly unsentimental and achingly sad, Harriet Walter is the best Lady Macbeth since Judi Dench. By and large, a richly rewarding reading of a tragedy that is notoriously difficult to pull off.

Paul Taylor

The Chiltern Hundreds

Vaudeville Theatre, London, WC2 (0171-836 9987)

In this reprehensibly enjoyable revival of a 1947 play, Edward Fox plays an eccentric Earl whose butler and son end up topsy-turvily standing as the Conservative and Socialist candidates in a 1945 by-election. The actors are left in a world of their own, but there's a spirit of upbeat daffy goodwill, and adroit performances from Polly Adams, as the serenely scatty Countess reduced to doing her own housework, and from Carli Norris, all spikey attitude as the son's wealthy American girlfriend.

Paul Taylor

Collected Stories

Theatre Royal, London, SW1 (0171-930 8800)

Inspired by the controversy surrounding American writer David Leavitt's use of Stephen Spender's autobiography for his own fictional purposes, Donald Margulies's two-hander is so creaky, it barely supports Helen Mirren's vigorous attempts at a fine performance. She's mentor to a young writer (Anne-Marie Duff) who eventually steals part of her life. The final scene is explosive, but it takes nigh on two hours to get there. Mirren hits notes of pathos and unexpected comedy, but it's all too little, too late.

Dominic Cavendish