Theatre: Sisters, Brothers / The Oginski Polonaise Gate Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture
One of the satisfactions of seeing plays at new writing venues such as the Royal Court and the Gate is that you don't just get a programme, you get a copy of the script with production details included. The author gets people reading what he's written, the audience gets something nice for the bookshelf, the reviewer gets a handy way of checking quotes.

The person who stands to lose is the director. At any rate, going over my copy of Stig Larsson's Sisters, Brothers the day after seeing David Farr's production, I had a sense that the play I was reading and the play I had seen were not quite the same thing. While a director should be free to interpret the script, I felt Farr had let Larsson down in some respects, whereas without the script to read, it would have been natural to assume that Farr's intelligent, well-acted production was faithful to Larsson's intentions.

Larsson's play - part of the Gate's "Biennale" season of new European drama - follows an evening at a suburban Stockholm flat, where Aina has invited her two older sisters and their boyfriends for a drink. The pleasantries are quickly disrupted by Gert (a brilliantly button-holing, wired performance by Ewan Stewart), boyfriend of the oldest sister, Inga, who whiles away the time before she turns up by telling the other characters some things they'd rather not hear about her and about themselves. The party soon turns uncomfortably frank, but what is intriguing is the way that revelations seem to be forever evaded, deferred or simply muffed - so that all this honesty doesn't get anybody anywhere.

The most important difference between script and production is that, while Larsson seems to be setting the scene for a normal social occasion, Farr's characters display their neuroses from the off - the play has started too far down the slope to pick up speed. But there are also points where the emotions on stage seem at odds with the ones in the script - notably when Inga, late in the evening, begins to nuzzle at Aina's stomach. At the Gate, she seemed to be demanding to be breast-fed; the script reverses the roles, making it a mother mock-eating her baby. It doesn't detract from the interest of Farr's subtly stylised staging; it does remind you to be wary of attributing too much to the writer.

The differences between The Oginski Polonaise as it appears on the stage and on the page are far less clear-cut - either way, I was baffled. Nikolai Kolyada's play, the other half of a demanding double-bill, revolves around the daughter of a high-up Soviet functionary, returning to post-Communist Russia after eight years in America and bringing with her a transvestite friend, lots of hard currency and some left-over paranoia about the KGB. Victoria Worsley is often mesmerising in the lead, but the emotional cross- currents and layers of reference are hard to sort out. Maybe another read of the script is in order.

n To 21 Mar. Booking: 0171-229 5387

ROBERT HANKS

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