THEATRE / Time in emotion: Paul Taylor is left mystified by an evening with the Israeli movemement-based company, Tmu-Na

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The Independent Culture
To say that a theatrical work is in 'real time' indicates that the staged action has the same duration as it would if it were occurring in real life. So the Israeli group Tmu-Na evidently has some ironic intent in using this term as the title for the passionate, baffling piece it has now brought to the Lyric Studio. Certainly, time as experienced in the show's setting - Eva's Bar, Tel- Aviv, on the eve of Yom Kippur 1973 - appears to dilate and distend to accommodate heightened, physically graphic projections of the characters' emotional states and painful relationships. Reminding us of the world outside this reflective redoubt, where time marches to a more implacable drum, news footage on a flickering television screen shows us, in the final sequence, the countdown to the Yom Kippur war.

Inspired by Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano and scattered with jokily explicit allusions to Casablanca, the piece explores the Jewish sense of rootlessness and alienation that clearly persists even within the homeland of Israel. The focus is on a group of displaced persons erotically entangled with each other. A Jew in Russia, here reduced to being 'just that Russian guy', Eran Lavon's Ernest is in love with a woman who is in love with another man. The woman is Yudit (Shirley Low Cohen), a beautiful actress; the man, Milan (Meir Ben Amitai), a drunken Czech dissident. To share Yom Kippur, the festival of forgiveness, these people have gathered in the deserted bar belonging to the widowed Eva (Yael Dar). Calm, never likely, is decisively ruled out when - with an ecstatic toothy grin and a posture of deranged cosmopolitan sophistication - Milan's outrageous wife Eli (Yael Saghi) returns from self-exile in Europe.

By the time this pair make frantic love or perhaps have a fight or perhaps do both over a lidless loo to the strains of Wagner's Tannhauser, such behaviour has ceased to seem in the least bit abnormal. Tmu-Na is Hebrew for 'images in motion' and though there are shreds of gnomic, deep-sounding dialogue, bizarre actions speak louder than words with Nava Zukerman's troupe. Relationships are investigated with a raw choreography, as in the various whirling ballroom routines where the equivocality of the partners' bond is imaged in the awkward rag- doll floppy stiffness of the dancing. The movement throughout is, by turns, searchingly archetypal and thunderously banal.

Performed with a striking intensity, Real Time, for all its glints of humour, comes across as an orgy of self-pity. Often the ideas are left irritatingly undeveloped. What's the point of Eva having a set of puppet effigies of the others secreted up her petticoats if nothing - beyond her eventually discarding them - is done with them dramatically. Often, you feel that the inadequate programme could have offered more help in glossing the gestures that are culturally opaque. Why, for example, does the silent Little Girl keep offering us a bouquet of red carnations in the Hebrew ritual at the end?

It's unfortunate, perhaps, that the piece opened in the same week as Diane Samuels' excellent Kindertransport, which deals with a more compelling strand of Jewish displacement in a painfully illuminating and less self-indulgent manner. At various points, the characters in Real Time hold out beseeching arms to us, but as it is far from clear what they want, your response is a sympathetic, uncomprehending shrug.

Lyric Studio, Kings St, London W6 (081-741 8701). To 1 May

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