When a play starts with two middle-class couples meeting for an amicable Sunday lunch in the garden, you anticipate that trouble is not far away. Nothing prepares you, however, for the rapid unravelling of social niceties in Michael Wall's excellent black comedy, Women Laughing (here deservedly revived after its stage premiere at the Manchester Royal Exchange earlier this year). We begin in Ayckbourn territory, as Colin-and-Steph and Tony-and-Maddy demonstrate the most ghastly version of suburban domesticity. While Steph (Maggie O'Neill) and Maddy (Matilda Ziegler) giggle in the kitchen, Colin (Christopher Fulford) and Tony (John Michie) circle each other, swapping office pressure stories and engaging in barbed small talk (written with great relish). But once the reason for the women's laughter is disclosed, the men find themselves united against a common enemy and the play plunges suddenly into much darker territory, culminating in a horrific disclosure from the gentle Tony.
A disturbing dissection of misogyny, marriage and mental breakdown, Wall's play draws us into a black region of the male psyche. It is subtly structured, adding twist upon twist to the moral maze, drawing antagonism between the sexes with great precision, while also building up a real sense of love between Steph and Colin, which provokes questions about the meaning of fidelity. Richard Wilson's fine production, while it does not get over the slight sag in the play's second act, boasts riveting performances all round - particularly from John Michie as Tony, who falls apart before your eyes.
Continues to 3 October (071-730 1745).