THEATRE The Censor Royal Court, London

With just a desk separating them, a young woman challenges a man in authority and the effect on him is devastating. It's a classic situation. We could be talking about the seismic encounters between Isabella and Angelo in Measure for Measure, or about the catastrophic collision of professor and PC-crazed student in Oleanna. Anthony Neilson's The Censor - deservedly revived now for a further run at the Royal Court's Theatre Upstairs - gives this set-up several unsettling twists. Not least of the puzzles in this powerful, deeply enigmatic work is the precise function of the woman who comes across as both wrecker and redeemer, at once a healing projection of the man's own "anima" and a femme fatale sent to him by some inscrutable fate.

Intense, austere, witty and poignant, the author's production beautifully communicates the play's elusive overlappings of reality and unreality and the stealthy, simultaneous progression of contradictory meanings. Down in the noir-ish nether world of his basement office, Alastair Galbraith's excellently uptight, skinny, Scots censor spends his life wielding scissors over hard-core porn films. Enter Miss Fontaine, a darkly attractive, disconcertingly self-possessed director (superb Jan Pearson) who wants to convince him that her movie, which consists of nothing but graphic sex acts, is, if he could only see beyond the images, a subtle history of a human relationship.

Hers is a philosophical crusade. The joke is that, to further it, she is intent on adopting the missionary position in more ways than one. Pretty soon, cool as you please, she's got her hands down the reluctant censor's trousers and, from what she finds - or rather doesn't find - there, is making deductions about his sexual insecurities and his marital misery. We get periodic glimpses of the latter on the occasions when his wife (Alison Newman), driven to infidelity by his hang-ups and his silence, materialises at the side and old conversations are replayed even as Miss Fontaine is sussing out, and then therapeutically satisfying, the coprophiliac voyeurism which turns out to be at the bottom, so to speak, of the censor's sexually paralysing shame.

I do not, as some have done, see the play as too weighted in favour of Miss Fontaine and her philosophy. True, her implacably determined tolerance does awaken love in the censor; acts do, in this case, lead to deeper meanings. And, with Miss Fontaine promptly getting herself killed, it might even remind you of Shadowlands - the censor, like the repressed CS Lewis, belatedly stirred into feeling by a free-spirit and then left cruelly bereaved.

But Neilson's play is potent because its female healer remains an ambiguous figure. There's something more than faintly mad about a woman who thinks you can deduce entire Who's Who entries from watching people have sex. "Could you tell, for instance, that the man's previous girlfriend was Asian? That the woman was brought up in care?" she demands of the distraught censor. And her manner of leaving - not without love, but with a sort of eerie impersonality - made me think, weirdly enough, of Mary Poppins, another mysterious agent who clears up dysfunction but can't allow her subjects to get too close.

Reduced to shuddering, misunderstood tears by her death, the censor is last seen re-viewing her film. The recorded voice of the young Barbara Cook swells through the theatre in a version of "Till There Was You" that is the last word in fresh, ardent gratitude for a life-changing love. Never can it have been played in a more equivocal context. Highly recommended.

Royal Court Upstairs (at the Ambassadors), West Street, London WC2 (0171- 565 5000) Paul Taylor

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform