Arts: Cultures clash in a Hispanic kasbah

New European Writers Royal Court, London
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The Royal Court's New European Writers' Season whisks the imagination to places and to modes of feeling not normally encountered much in the English theatre. Bazaar, by the talented young Spanish dramatist David Planell, deposits us in the shop of one of Madrid's immigrant Moroccan community and dramatises the cross-generational tensions over cultural integration via a crackpot scheme to win a You Have Been Framed TV competition that involves re-shooting a faked version of a real-life biking accident.

Altogether more drily comic and directed with a droll, laconically paced stylishness by Mary Peate, Christophe Pellet's One More Wasted Year is a wintry Gallic shrug of a play that takes a threesome of cafe-haunting twentysomethings on a journey into an indifference arguably worse, in its dull, echoing emptiness, than despair.

Around these two full stagings, a series of rehearsed readings has included a fascinating glimpse of how French theatre responded to the aimlessness of the 1980s in Xavier Durringer's A Desire to Kill on the Tip of the Tongue, a play that focuses on a group of discontents outside a discotheque who are set further at odds by the professional wind-up merchant in their midst.

Using British actors, translators and directors, the whole season is a fascinating exercise in finding, for a home audience, equivalencies (where they exist) of idiom, acting, production style and cultural context. The successes and failures are revealing. To my ear, Mark Ravenhill's version swamped the very fine Durringer piece: the characters all sound as if they have swallowed a whole row of dictionaries of up-to-the-minute "sarf London" street-cred - a relentlessness of register not, I suspect, intended by the original.

Rendered into agile, less attention-seeking English by John Clifford, Roxana Silbert's enjoyable staging of Bazaar illustrates the tricky problems of performance protocol. As the 55-year-old Moroccan shop-owner whose desperate desire to become an honorary Spaniard is questioned by his newly arrived, differently minded nephew, Nicholas Woodeson offers an object lesson in how to evoke the accent and gestures of a member of a disadvantaged cultural minority in a way that is alive to the undignified tragicomedy of the man's position but which also brings out the underlying human dignity. What a great Shylock he would make.

With Adrian Edmondson as the white-trash Spaniard who gets increasingly injured faking the accident, things go slightly astray. He produces riffs of extremely funny acting, but you can't help feeling that his Spanish counterpart would have more of a false macho front than Edmondson, whose squinty-eyed, runty stage persona is about as high on testosterone as Stan Laurel. The character is weak but surely not as transparently so as here.

The most successful piece is One More Wasted Year, which boasts a wonderful performance from the lanky, charismatic Paul Bettany. He has a quality of Edmondson's sidekick, Rik Mayall, about him but a range that can extend to tragic desolation. The experience of watching this beautifully nuanced staging is like being fed a slither of tarte au citron in progressively more poison-spiked instalments.

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