THEATRE REVIEWS

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The Independent Culture
Annie

Victoria Palace, London SW1

Everything about this 21st -versary production is precision engineered to activate your tear ducts at every available opportunity. However, criticising this superbly crafted evening of sentimentality - complete with a cast of kids and a charming dog - would be like stealing candy from a baby. Lesley Joseph is too nice as the wicked orphanage matron, but Kevin Colson is tremendously touching as the gruff billionaire who adopts 10-year-old and has his life turned upside down.

David Benedict

The Dead Monkey

Whitehall Theatre, London SW1

In Nick Darke's 1980s satire on Californian attitudes, bored white- trash Delores has been earning extra cash via an unnatural relationship with a pet monkey. When husband Hank (David Soul, above) discovers that the monkey has died, he's not happy. What this potentially surreal play needs is tight, inventive direction and strong acting: both are absent. What possessed the producers to transfer this fringe production to the West End? Probably the fact that they are playing the lead roles.

David Benedict

Haroun & the Sea of Stories

Cottesloe, London SE1

Salman Rushdie's cunningly elaborate children's story comes across as The Arabian Knights meets The Wizard of Oz. Melly Still's endlessly imaginative design (and Paule Constable's lighting) is full of wonders (attention all awards committees) as is the cast - playing everything from an underwater gardener to a Hoopoe to the gorgeously coloured Plenty-More Fish (in the sea). Tim Supple and David Tushingham's narrative is too diffuse to carry true emotional impact - it sometimes feels like watching gorgeous illustrations - but inventiveness and wit abound nevertheless.

David Benedict

Hamlet

Birmingham Rep

Playing the title role in Bill Alexander's gripping and unsettling production, Richard McCabe (above) communicates a wonderful spirit of suppressed anarchy, but never lets you lose a sense of the hero's pierced humanity. Gerard Murphy is quite the best Claudius I have ever seen - there's a wonderfully unsavoury comic blatancy about the way he manipulates Laertes. Although the text has been cut in an odd manner - no sight or mention of Fortinbras - this is a sweeping, urgent account of the tragedy and is strongly recommended. Closes tonight.

Paul Taylor

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