Long time waiting for a dry debate

Prowse fails to live up to over-excited expectations of European drama, says Sue Wilson
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In the Solitude of the Cotton Fields/The Dying Gaul/The Millionairess, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

WITH PATRICE Chereau's 1995 production of Bernard-Marie Koltes's Dans La Solitude des Champs de Coton still vivid in theatre-going memory as one of the Edinburgh Festival's all-time highlights, expectations of Philip Prowse's new English-language production - given the Citz's long and honourable track-record of staging European drama - were running high.

That anticipation (for those few who were party to the facts prior to finding the apologies slip in their programmes on opening night) was decidedly muddied, however, by the discovery that Prowse and company were working from the wrong script, namely a translation unauthorised by Koltes's estate, rather than the official version by Jeffrey Wainwright, who - then in blissful ignorance of the substitution - wrote about the play in The Independent a couple of weeks ago.

Several days' increasingly frantic negotiations between the theatre and Koltes's agent and executors, including talk of an injunction to prevent the play opening, resulted in the aforementioned apology to all concerned (though not in explanation of exactly how such a fundamental error occurred), with the show - "a production based on work done by the company on a translation by Christopher Rathbone" - duly going on. Perhaps the best outcome to be looked for in such circumstances would be a triumph for Prowse's version, but unfortunately it proved to be about as much of a damp squib as Koltes's extraordinary verbal architecture allows.

The sheer, fiendishly loaded glory of Koltes's language, in this emblematically metaphysical tale of Dealer and Client meeting in some twilight urban ne'er-world, of itself supplies superabundant mental fodder to sustain the piece's hour-long duration, with its intricate, adamantine, scalpel- sharp probings of the symbioses between desire, need, power, fear, gratification and morality. However, Prowse's direction - deliberately, one presumes - brings almost nothing extra to the text, apart from a stylish upside- down design, with both Andrew Joseph's and Robert David MacDonald's performances characterised by a near-total dearth of expressive inflection, reducing the tone of the drama to little more than dry intellectual debate, the pair's frequent fluffs and stumbles over lines puncturing the necessary tension still further.

Thankfully, things improved considerably over the next two nights, in the latest instalment of a season that certainly highlights the consistently ambitious sweep of the Citz's work. Contemporary American drama was next up, with the world premiere of Craig Lucas's latest play looking to build on the reputation established by previous works such as Prelude to a Kiss and Longtime Companion.

The Mamet-tinged story of a young screenwriter, Robert (Stephen Scott), seeking to commemorate his recently dead lover by making the (eponymous) movie they worked on together, it touches deftly on a whole cluster of contemporary preoccupations. Cyber-communication, psychotherapy, AIDS, the existence of angels, Buddhist philosophy and the legacy of the Holocaust all surface against the duplicitous machinations of the film industry, as embodied by the Mephistophelian figure of Jeffrey (HenryIan Cusick), the film's chillingly amoral producer. While a number of alarmingly creaky plot-hinges are required to encompass this little lot, a compellingly realised trio of central performances - including Lorna McDevitt as Jeffrey's shrewd but emotionally adrift wife Elaine - provide a vibrant human core to the action, enabling most of its densely compacted themes to breathe with engrossing, even gripping resonance.

And finally, in the main house, a rare revival for Shaw's late comedy of money and (ill) manners, staged with wonderful grit and panache by director Giles Havergal, amid Kenny Miller's airily elegant design. Anne Myatt stars as Epifania, the obstreperous middle-aged heiress of the title, simultaneously waging war on her estranged playboy-sportsman husband while trying - if only half-consciously - to find an outlet for her formidable passions and energies in a society still decidedly uncomfortable with women of independent minds and means.

While the gradual shift from Coward-esque barbed badinage towards weightier ideological concerns, dissecting the relations between class, capital, power and labour, does grind its gears at times, the dialogue's relishable pithiness and expertly maintained pitch, between character-realism and camp, cutting satire, keeps things flowing at a cracking, crackling pace, boosted by performances all round of equal poise, vigour and flourish.

All running until 4 April. Bookings on 0141 429 0022.

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