Theatre The Art of Random Whistling The Young Vic Studio, London

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The Independent Culture
A man is slumped in a chair, surrounded by rubbish, with a sign around his neck saying "You disappoint me." Around him, 6ft in the air, his neighbours perch on chairs and sofas. You hear a soundtrack of confused voices, but it is unclear whether it's the noise from the TV or the man's jumbled thoughts.

Just when you think he must be dead, he gets up, washes his face, and takes out a portable PC. He is writing some kind of dissertation on the nature of existence, and whether things cease to exist when we aren't looking at them. But his interest in the subject is more than purely academic. His only daughter, Laura, has disappeared. Though she may by now be dead, for her father, her continuing existence is constantly and painfully proved in his memory.

Wink Theatre have devised and written a superb and moving piece of theatre which combines a wholesome, gritty, slice-of-life story with a lyrical and inventive theatrical style. Rufus Norris's production is philosophical, comic, tender and (with the help of designer Katrina Lindsay) brings beauty out of modern dereliction. Mark Jenkinson's text is finely judged: understated but not afraid of emotion and poetry. It is one of the best new experimental plays to have been produced in a long while.

Helena Lymbery, as Laura, embodies a seven-year-old's gruff shyness, unstoppable curiosity and delight in unexpected things without ever tipping over into mawkishness or kiddy acting. She circumambulates the south London estate where she was brought up, encountering residents andbringing love to a lot of lives that lack it.

James Clyde is always compelling as Laura's father Michael, though the character suffers from being the pivotal point of the action. At times he is left with nothing to do but rage and mourn, which lends a heaviness to the play that is otherwise sensibly avoided. The dramatic structure reflects the company's insight into grief: that it gives time a different shape. Bouts of obsessive recall are interspersed with patches of solitary calm and at other times the past re-establishes itself in a way that seems as solid as it ever was. The exact last moments that Michael had with Laura are heart-rendingly replayed, but with all the hindsight in the world they cannot be changed.

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CLARE BAYLEY

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