Theatre: In A Little World

Of Our Own

Donmar Warehouse

When a hardman in a play tells another character to stop worrying because he'll take care of it, you know he's in for a nasty surprise. Even if you know nothing about it before taking your seat at Gary Mitchell's In a little World of Our Own, it doesn't take long to realise what's afoot. It may come on like a Protestant Northern Ireland family drama but it quickly becomes clear that what we're really watching is a whodunnit.

Ray (cold and threatening Stuart Graham) has a well-founded reputation for violence off-set by his fierce concern for his mentally retarded kid brother Richard. Gordon, the third brother, is engaged to devout Deborah and together they're on the brink of buying a house in which they can look after Richard, whose crush on the 15-year-old daughter of Ray's rival threatens to land everyone in trouble. Ray returns from taking Richard to a party to meet her, but their stories don't match, suspicions are aroused,and cover-ups, threats and reprisals rear their ugly heads.

The most curious thing about the play is how old-fashioned it is. Take away the contemporary working-class loyalist setting, the textual references to UDA and paramilitary violence and you could be in a Fifties drawing- room thriller. Important characters and the chief events happen off-stage and the plot hinges on a (none-too-well disguised) secret which we guess in advance of the most of the characters. The opening scene features acres of exposition, much of which is abandoned in pursuit of the thriller-plot. Most worrying of all, virtually nothing actually happens on stage. It is no coincidence that Mitchell has written 12 radio plays. The entire evening is dialogue-driven: these people rarely do anything: they say it. Until the climactic final scene there's almost no real dramatic action. Lies are simply peeled back under question-and-answer to reveal dangerous truths.

Everywhere you look (including the programme) people are telling you that drama is about story-telling but the accent should be on "stories" not "telling". Mitchell would probably argue that the play is an accurate reflection of the current political situation. Surrounded by stifling, almost casual, violence, people face a kind of stalemate; but his dedication to traditional plot concerns diminishes his ideas. Furthermore, the layer of biblical imagery sits uneasily with his unleavened slice-of-life approach.

However, with the exception of the portentous synthesiser music between the scenes, director Robert Delamere shades and paces the production to perfection. He and his fine cast build tension and go a long way towards hiding the flaws. Helen McCrory gives weight to the underdeveloped character of Deborah and in the least showy role Lorcan Cranitch is quietly impressive disguising steely strength beneath an unassuming, wimpish surface.

Significantly, the season is sponsored by Carlton. These days, TV drama is almost exclusively reliant on naturalism. Gary Mitchell's carefully plotted, fly-on-the-wall writing may wind up finding a better home there.

To 7 Mar. Box office: O171-369 1732