THEATRE / Someone to watch over you: Jeffrey Wainwright on Strange Attractors at the Contact, Manchester

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The Independent Culture
Kevin Fegan runs ever faster to keep his work at the leading edge of contemporary life. His prison drama Rule 43 was a step ahead of the headlines, Excess XS was about Ecstasy, and his most recent work for Contact, Game Challenge Level 7, collected its audience in buses and downloaded them in Moss Side and Hulme. With his new play, Strange Attractors, his fascination with now, and his determination to break up the familiar theatre experience does take-off, even if the end of the runway is perilously close when it does so.

The key concept is virtual reality. The seats are curtained off and we find ourselves in an audience / performance space dominated by a large central surveillance tower and video screen. It is a world of exposed metal, forbidding and functional. The idea of having the audience mill about this space during the action aims to mimic the simulated participation of virtual reality. The design by Angela Davies, with Chris Brockhouse (light) and John Owen (sound), is powerful and ingenious, but if the trick does not quite come off it is partly because its set-up can obscure some of the action. The other great novelty is the video screen which captures us all and parts of the action, both combined with computer graphics.

Computers propose us as numbers, and the three central characters are Three, Nine and Eight. Nine is a hairdresser whose m attendant ideas, this is the moment at which the author's synthesis is justified. The show has its obscurities and affectations, but with his directors, Brigid Larmour and Richard Gregory, Kevin Fegan has dared much and deserves admiration.

To 26 Feb (061-274 4400)

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