Theatre / The principle of inertia

Summer Begins Donmar Warehouse, London
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The Independent Culture
Sherry is in a graduate job at Marks and Spencer but she still can't get free knickers for her sister Gina, who's on the till at Tesco. Gina goes out with Dave, who suddenly proposes in the middle of an Indian restaurant. "The whole bloody Tandoori was waiting for me to say yes." Gina sees no way out but then escape routes are in short supply for this bunch of twentysomethings in David Eldridge's new play, the English quotient of this year's Four Corners new-writing season at the Donmar Warehouse. A serio-comic look at boys and girls in Barking, it's a sort of Things to Do in Dagenham When You're (not quite) Dead.

The four twentysomethings have all got their eyes on the horizon. Decorator Dave wants "kids, a couple of dogs and a nice big kitchen for Gina", but she's dreaming of leaving him. Dave wants to go into partnership with his best mate Lee, who's living in the flat his Dad bought him after winning the lottery. With no qualifications and no hope, Lee's trying to work out what to do with his life, which looks like it's going to include Sherry. She, in turn, is trying to leave home, something she failed to do during three years at University.

Eldridge has a good ear for dialogue and, given lines like "Martin... he's on cold meats but he's gorgeous", a blousy Beatie Edney as Gina relishes every opportunity to try and do an Alison Steadman on it. Certainly, Eldridge seems to be invoking the spirit of Mike Leigh as he outlines his theme of class and the struggle between aspiration and circumstance.

Like Leigh, he tries to use characterisation to propel the play forward but his observation is not tough enough. The (good) soap dialogue evokes plenty of laughs but he fails to harness it to dramatise the ideas. Consequently, the play lacks drive and momentum, a problem exposed by Jonathan Lloyd's reverent direction, which only serves to underline the inert structure. Scenes and acts which should end decisively merely stop and the ideas merely float alongside the script.

The women may have the best lines but the men have the best roles. Lee has little to say for himself but less turns out to be more, thanks to a fine performance from Darren Tighe; but, whether he's falling-down drunk at a disco or bursting with hope, the excellent Gary Warren steals the show as the loud-mouthed and wholly convincing Dave.

He's helped by the compassion that shines through the characterisation. It's that, not the hyped surface ease, which marks Eldridge out as a talent to watch. He is clearly being encouraged. What's needed now is more rigour to help an evident talent for TV-style writing to theatrical fruition.

To 5 Apr. 0171-369 1732

David Benedict