THEATRE / Wit's End and Lady Aoi - New End, London NW3

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The Independent Culture
A S Griboedov's early 19th-century Russian satire pits liberal values against a reactionary society riddled with hypocrisy. The witty and cynical hero, Chatsky (a charismatic Adrian Schiller), returns after three years to find that his childhood sweetheart has fallen into the arms of the ingratiating Molchalin, a social-climbing dullard who in Chatsky's eyes commits the cardinal sin of being 'unencumbered by conversation'.

In the sparkling first half it looks as if Jake Lushington, the director, and Stephen Walshe, translator, have uncovered a comic gem, but after the interval both the plotting and dialogue fade away, replaced by absurdities, pontification and shouting.

There are plenty of comic possibilities, all of them unintentional, in Lady Aoi. This is a rather old-fashioned modern Noh play written by Yukio Mishima in 1950. A woman lies seriously ill in hospital. Her husband visits, is accosted by a coy nurse and haunted by the image of his ex-lover, a beautiful older woman. Amy Kassai, the director, creates marvellous effects with an old sheet but Mishima's probing of the dark writhings of the unconscious is predictable and outdated psycho-sexual babble which will send you screaming into the night.

To 11 Oct (071-794 0022)

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