Theatre: Space, the final frontier

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THE TANNOY that should have given the standard three-minutes warning towards the end of the interval broke down at the first night of David Greig's haunting new play - The Cosmonaut's Last Message To The Woman He Once Loved In The Soviet Union, as it is called for short. This glitch was, as it happened, a perfectly timed coincidence, for the piece is a poetic, sly, witty and musically structured meditation on the paradoxical difficulties of communicating on our shrunken Post-Modern planet of internet satellite link-up.

In theory, the world now puts up so little technical resistance to our messaging each other that it has taken on a curiously weightless feel: the unbearable lightness of meaning. That perception, though, is puckishly readjusted in the play by the surreal presence of two characters who are literally weightless - cosmonauts stranded for the past 12 years on a Russian space station that has lost contact with the world. Aerially twirling on harnesses hung from scaffolds at either side of the infinite blue star- spattered set, Oleg and Casimir bicker and forget details (the surname, say, of a once-loved woman) vital for any future emotional communication with a world that has forgotten them. This pair provide a thematic frame for a story that begins and ends in Scotland and with the image of a snowing, faulty television set.

You might detect something of Tony Angels In America Kushner's cosmic soap-opera mode in the glinting threads of connection Greig's narrative traces between such diverse folk as a French UFO boffin, a Russian erotic dancer, and an Edinburgh speech therapist in search of the civil servant husband who has faked suicide. But I'd suggest a creative affinity here with Greig's fellow Scot, Muriel Spark, and the dry glancing wit and aerial perspective of the later novels involving the globe-trotting rich, such as The Take-Over.

Like Spark, Greig has the gift of characterising the complexity of contemporary life with the drollest and lightest flicks of details. It's a mordant touch that the play's creepy Norwegian peace negotiator is in the employ of the World Bank, and that there's a woman who fantasises - with no apparent awareness of any contradiction - about decamping to Skye and learning Gaelic while sending her children to school on the internet, and that an American-phobic Frenchman disgustedly forecasts the day when every story human beings have ever told will have been made into a movie set in a US high school.

Also, as with Spark, Greig's principle of composition is musical. Here, like a cryptic allegory for the communication that is not happening on the surface, the play whispers to itself in a network of internal echoes - as when the mint in an Edinburgh garden seems to fly across and literally re-seed itself in a French equivalent. The doubling of roles by the vivid cast is expressive, each part carrying unsettling reminders of the other character the actor is playing. The fact that, regardless of nationality, they use the same accent throughout creates some confusion. It's true, that in an ideal world, there would be more space between action and audience. Otherwise, though, Vicky Featherstone's imaginative production splendidly rises to a beguiling occasion.

Paul Taylor

To 29 May (0181-940 3633)