THEATRE From Both Hips Project The Mint, Dublin
With his blithe propensity for perversity and menace, 26-year- old playwright Mark O'Rowe has certainly attracted his champions - in particular the film, TV and theatre director Gerry Stembridge, who directed a rehearsed reading of his The Aspidistra Code at the Peacock recently. Now, director Jim Culleton's Fishamble company, recently reformulated from Pigsback (who, under Culleton, developed Joseph O'Connor's Red Roses and Petrol), deliver O'Rowe's latest script: a clever, biting little entertainment of absurdist anxiety, set in a trio of suburban living-rooms linked by telephones, violence and sexual intrigue.

The scenario itself - an oddly structured sequence of blackly comic, twisting subplots - dawns gradually through a suspenseful scatter of verite conversational noise and Mamet-style staccato non-sequiturs. A working- class Dublin crime reporter for the Echo (a blazing Gerard Carey) has just been released from hospital, having been shot twice in the hip by a guilt-raddled and therapy-tormented drug squad police officer.

The showdown between the two steamrolls through the foolish flutter of the female characters: the cop's keen but magisterially supportive wife (Catherine Walsh), and the chaotic flock of women that gathers round the lame and loudly complaining macho reporter. Although the cautionary dramatic ironies of the male characters are a central concern, the female characters are alarmingly weaker - wry observational-comedy stereotypes who almost hail from another genre of flailing satire. Yet, if the characters seem unlikely in their actions and nature, they are united in a spiralling absurdism. There is a constant knife-edge balance between the hilariously redundant interchanges and the threat of on-stage violence, but ultimately the comedic reality-distortions triumph.

It's a highly engaging production, with Jim Culleton plumbing much of his resources into casting, and his directorial energies into pacing the rapid-fire interchanges.

Sometimes a firmer use of the blue pencil might have keyed up the march of the plot; but this is an enviable showcase for O'Rowe's unfurling and undeniable stagecraft. His cruel vivisection of human foibles provides for many an evil belly-laugh.

`From Both Hips' runs to 26 July (00353-1-67123210). It transfers to the Tron Theatre, Glasgow from 30 July to 10 Aug

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