THEATRE: Thirteenth Night - Lyric Studio, Hammersmith

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The Independent Culture
It begins with echoes of Twelfth Night; unravels to strains of Julius Caesar; intensifies with memories of Macbeth; and ends with the sort of phut you wouldn't expect to find beyond an early draft for Jackanory.

Howard Brenton's 1981 play, receiving its first professional revival from the Buster Theatre and London Actors Theatre Company, has its share of sex, passion, murder and betrayal and party political conferences, but any bitterness or tension is oddly dissipated. Though the power of rhetoric is undermined in the early scenes, it doesn't prevent most of the characters conversing in empty aphorisms: 'I'm sick of being a leader who doesn't believe in leadership . . .'; 'everything has changed but nothing has changed . . .' Both the protagonists and the play seem to talk round in circles.

Chris Fisher's production is tough, though, and excellently acted. Jenny Gaze, as a latterday Lady Macbeth, gets to wear the best dresses, but Anthony Smee - one part David Owen to two parts Edward Fox - delivers some masterfully refined paranoia; David Bauckham brings a brutal frankness to the doomed Labour leader Bill Dunn; and Chris Brown is fear and loving personified as his gentle side-kick Henry Murgatroyd. There are some powerful individual scenes, too - watch out for the one in the bathroom.

Until 31 October (081-741 0824).

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