Missing, White Bear Theatre Club, London

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The Independent Online

Strange things are happening in the dorp. There's a killer abducting a girl each year on the last day of August; there's a circus in town with a tent full of freaks; there's a father who has lived in the loft for the last seven years; and now there's a blind policeman to protect the hysterical women. And I thought it was dull out there on the veld...

It certainly seems dull for Meisie, the young daughter, imprisoned by poverty and her mother's angry determination. There aren't many marital openings for young girls in corrugated iron shacks, sewing manure sacks and filling them from the piles in the front yard (each pile sorted according to defecating animal). The occasional boy has come to visit, but he usually beats a hasty retreat as soon as the wind changes direction.

So when a fine, upstanding, albeit blind, constable turns up, the temptation is inevitable. What does it matter that this is Girl-Abducting Night in the Karoo? What does it matter that the constable has a white stick and an uncanny ability to identify the age and marital status of women by smell alone?

All pretty weird. Which is why Derek Goldby's production seems strangely over-realistic, somehow unwilling to tangle with the surreal that threads its way through this 75-minute play. Crude lighting changes and blunt sound-effects are not enough to create atmosphere, the weirdness needs to come from within the soul of the production.

Not that it would be easy: Reza de Wet's play is a curious animal, havering between normality and strangeness, between reality and desire. So when the final (not to be revealed) dénouement unravels, it comes as something of a shock – not because of what happens, but how it happens, entirely symbolically.

Which is not to say that there are not precise and beautiful performances on show, imbued with all the dust and dung of the South African outback. Set inside Kim Beresford's scrabby, corrugated walls, there's a fine performance from Josephine Myddelton as Meisie, the fragile and desperate girl. And from Charmion May as Gerti, the spinster with her own thwarted designs on the sightless copper. Bernadette Short gives Meim, Meisie's mother, all the anger and bluster of a deserted wife who wants to see her daughter married off – if only as a means to coax her husband from his garret.

As the policeman, Costa Milton initially had me wondering. There seemed to be too much chin- rubbing as he says, "Exactly what I expected" – far too much Sherlockian posing. But then I started to wonder, is this is the circus harlequin playing at the role of blind copper, overplaying it to keep the women in their place? There seem to be so many unknowns, so much that remains unknowable. But then, maybe that's the point: these women won't admit to what they want, so why should he?

To 21 April (020-7793 9193)

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