THEATRE The Woods Finborough Theatre, London

Men's need to win the esteem of men - and the relegation of women to being props deployed in the pursuit of this approval - has been a fruitful dramatic theme for David Mamet. Once, discussing his play All Men are Whores, he even argued that a brothel is essentially a place for homosexual experience "because it has to do with proclaiming yourself in terms of other men. And a whorehouse is how other men see America." Problems tend to arise, though, when he tries to imagine a situation where a man is not in the company of men but alone with a member of the opposite sex.

The Woods, a 1977 play that now has its belated British premiere in Robert Shaw's impressively acted production, was expressly written to examine the question "why don't men and women get along?" It focuses on a pair of lovers, Nick (excellent Peter Polycarpou) and Emma Bird's Ruth, who has escaped from the city for a romantic weekend up in Nick's family cabin. In three scenes, which take place from sunset through to the next morning, their idyll gradually turns ugly, then violent and ends in an exhausted stalemate. But, as with Oleanna, a play that it at times oddly anticipates, you get the sense that there's an ugliness not just in the purportedly representative relationship but in Mamet's whole handling and weighting of it.

The play has its strengths. Mamet captures the rhythm and the dynamics of fight-picking with a terse, almost poetic accuracy and there's a stomach- tensing power in the sequence where Ruth finally gives in to Nick's rough sexual coercion on the porch but is too dry for him to enter, thus detonating a small bomb of mutual recrimination as she taunts him for the aggressive way he deals with his wounded male vanity. But most of the would-be archetypal stuff about man versus woman, authentic country versus inauthentic city (not to mention the trope of babes in the wood telling fairy stories to each other to fend off fear and postpone an ending) comes across as inflated cliche, corniness on stilts. She, of course, is the one who wants long- term commitment; he, the one out of touch with his feelings to the point of eventual near breakdown.

Even if you can put up with the galumphing givenness of all this, you may still wonder why the Ruth character (like the female student in Oleanna) has to metamorphose into a nagging scold of preternatural humourlessness, policing Nick's comments on the look-out for the least sign of not being taken seriously. And if Ruth's speeches about, say, her grandmother "She was like the Earth./ She knew so many things./ I think about her all the time./ I wish I had not lost her bracelet." are intended to be satire- free tributes to her intuition and poetic spirit, then the joke is on Mamet.

The most telling comparison would be with Strindberg. In dramatising the incompatibilities between the sexes, this upfront misogynist never patronises the fearsome women he creates: hence their popularity with actresses. By contrast, it's impossible to imagine any of Mamet's female characters ever taking on an independent life and steering their creator to a position he had not forseenn

To 3 Nov (Booking: 0171-373 3842)

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

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

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
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.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week