Welcome to the pleasure dome

THEATRE Babycakes Tron Theatre, Glasgow
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The Independent Culture
Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City series of books are set during a crucial time in late 20th-century history when the whole notion of community was being swept away on both sides of the Atlantic, even as liberal sexual mores were increasingly being put under the moralistic microscope. The fourth novel, Babycakes, deals with this close-up, along with the differences in attitudes to sex and sexuality on either side of the pond as observed by the same set of San Franciscan condominium dwellers that occupied the first three books.

Clyde Unity's stage adaptation, by in-house playwright/ director John Binnie, naively takes a prior knowledge of the books as read, and is in danger of excluding any sector of its audience who aren't au fait with the literary adventures of Mary Ann, Michael Mouse and Mona. Fortunate, then, that former Traverse artistic director Ian Brown is in charge of proceedings, leading a disciplined cast through a fluid series of encounters and acquaintances - some more casual than others - in those dark days before safe sex, when "condom" was still a dirty word.

Sex sells all right, and at times we're presented with some hilarious cross-dressing cameos from both Clint Dyer and Richard Willis, while Dyer also doubles as the cheeky Notting Hill teenager Wilfred, whose consistent efforts to pull the exiled Michael are thwarted in favour of a hassle- free, platonic, "mutual support"-type affair. Beneath the toilet-humour facade, though, what hits home the most is how a society can be all but summed up by its sexual practices.

The portrayal of an extremely naive London gay scene, as represented by Wilfred, is a moot case. It was a scene occupied by a host of leather- clad clones who missed the cultural and political content of such butch Americana. In this way it was itself a shallow clone of the entire San Fransican scene, a sociologist's paradise. Dungaree dyke Mona, meanwhile, becomes a veritable lady of the manor, decked out in twin-set and pearls and a Princess Di hair-do.

As in most stage adaptations of novels, this one needs pruning, though any other problems in what is generally a slickly imaginative - if at time exclusively self-celebratory - affair is largely to do with the fine tuning, the roots of which lie in the company's philosophy. For Clyde Unity's collective nature has in the past seen casting decisions made out of easy sentiment rather than what the works demand. As a result, plays have ended up coming across as unbearably screechy, relying more on camaraderie and cheek to see things through.

This is less the case here, with superlative performances from Liam Brennan, Lynn Ferguson and Stephen Docherty, but the side is occasionally let down by a misplaced rhythm here, a skew-wiff delivery there. Brown's influence can only benefit the company in the long term, though what that might be is anybody's guess.

`Babycakes' is at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, to 2 Feb. Booking: 0141- 552 4267 Neil Cooper

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