Theatre: These junkies will be a big hit

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The Independent Culture
High Life

The Bush, London

The Tower Project

Euston Tower, London

Ricky Jay

Old Vic, London

A Canadian actor called Lee MacDougall shared digs with some morphine addicts once. He has turned the experience into a cracking little genre piece about a bank heist. is his debut play, and it's very male: a fast, yackety-yack entertainment about Miami cons, in need mainly of new areas of their bodies in which to stick needles.

If you throw four addicts together who don't like each other and who have a hare-brained scheme for a hold-up, the potential for explosive bust-ups is strong. And MacDougall is very adroit with his characters. This isn't just a Mojo-esque exercise in style.

deals with low lifes, and each one is closely portrayed. Nigel Planer is extremely good as the wimpy, bearded one, who nicks credit cards and likes to return them before the owners have noticed. David Schofield brings the gleaming arched eyebrow of Jack Nicholson to Dick, the team's leader. Paul Barber's grave, maleficent Bug doesn't think twice about killing people. Joe Mackay is the good-looking boy who's hired to chat up the bank clerk. In Richard Bridge's production at the Bush, they make a terrific ensemble. The scene in which the four of them sit in the car outside the bank and bicker like teenagers as a police cop walks towards them is a sheer delight. In the words of the Bruce Springsteen song they keep referring to, is "Born to Run".

I've had an anonymous postcard calling me a "rotter" for giving away the plot of a recent play. Since the director, Deborah Warner, intends to repeat the Tower Project in an office block in Perth, Australia in January 2000 - and since there may still be a few tickets available today for her current installation, I won't spoil this one. If you haven't a clue what you are about to see, it makes it twice the event.

At Euston Tower you wait on the ground floor, which feels like the reception of a Soviet hotel. Then, when your slot comes, you're ushered into a lift and told to follow the arrows when the lift doors open. After you've travelled up 30 floors, you're not surprised to see terrific views when you get there.

But it's the juxtaposition of what you expect to see in the deserted offices - desks, swivel chairs, old filing cabinets - with the sudden, sometimes surreal creations that Warner has introduced that gives the project its uniqueness. To give away only one example: a fax machine sits in the middle of an empty room spewing out a roll of paper into an ever increasing heap. You examine the writing and see that it's the text of Paradise Lost. You move at your own pace from one room to the next (some people take 20 minutes, some take two hours); as you do so, you piece together the clues that Warner has laid. The experience is eerie and powerful.

In Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants the world's master sleight-of-hand artist gives himself a small problem. Pretty quickly, his extraordinary level of skill becomes the norm. The audience realises that here is a man who can pluck any card that they are thinking of out of any place on the set. We surrender ourselves to the fact that we are in the presence of omnipotence.

The guy says he can throw a card 90 yards. Well, of course he can, we think, he's Ricky Jay. He says he can pierce the outer skin of a water- melon with a playing card. Well, naturally, that's his job. Only once did I glimpse the shadow of a card moving across the back of his palm.

Ricky Jay and his director David Mamet are well aware that we expect everything to go right. They keep pretending its going wrong. Jay takes a dozen throws at the melon. Card after card ricochets into the audience. He looks exhausted. We are enthralled.

`': Bush W12 (0181 743 3388) to Sat; `The Tower Project': Euston Tower, NW1 (0171 638 8891) ends today; `Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants': Old Vic, SE1 (0171 928 7616) to 17 July

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