The star of The English Patient, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Three Colours: Blue enters the rented lodgings of Ludovico Nota, a well- known novelist, as a distraught, hidden figure twisting her fingers. She has failed to commit suicide. When she removes her cloche hat, her pale skin and boyish hair give her a gamine radiance. Her quick brown eyes startle at each remark. She keeps suggesting, rivetingly, that she's about to reply; and then she doesn't. When she does, it's a let-down.
It's banal to complain about her accent, but in the end it gets to you. It's not simply that "accomplices" become "compasses", "ask" becomes "us" and "sheets" become ... well, the sort of people who make cheap cracks like this. Her voice isn't strong. The size of the speeches in another language seems to hem her in. You don't know whether the hesitancy is the character's or the actress's. You wish she could do it in French, and we'd follow the subtitles. Because there's an unequal contest between the fierce sparring of seasoned British actors pulling out the stops and Binoche speaking English very well for someone who's French.
Brown's set slants up towards the audience. If this were a public highway, there'd be a sign warning us of a one-in-five gradient. The slope allows Binoche to deliver her most emotionally exposed moments as if at the edge of a cliff. Binoche can reveal herself with an extraordinary rawness that fully justifies the title. But the whole piece is uphill. Written in 1922, the year after Six Characters in Search of an Author, Naked explores similar themes of reality blurring with fiction and the slippery nature of human identity. From the start, these characters communicate at a daunting level of personal angst. They speak heatedly about their own emotions and yet watching it is not itself an emotional experience.
There's a Louise Woodward angle: Binoche plays Ersilia, a nanny whose charge has died while in her care. Her story has been in the Corriere della Sera and has caught the interest of a well-known novelist. Each of the men in Naked - novelist, hack, ex-fiance and consul - wants his own Ersilia. The elusive Binoche creates wonderful frissons by slipping out of their grasp when they try and establish close contact.
Jonathan Kent's forceful production never lets the high-pitched tenor of the exchanges flag. As he's shown in productions of Medea, Mother Courage and Ivanov, Kent loves a good row. Thankfully he steps back from the manic pace of his recent Government Inspector. His cast animate Pirandello's abstract preoccupations with vigour. As the novelist, Oliver Ford Davies is particularly good. He drifts in and out of his own world, alternating between engagement and detachment. His shoulders droop, his eyes roll, his inky index finger swoops down in arguments as if the other person has won the lottery. He wanted an idea for a story. "The last thing I needed was heavy-handed interruptions from the source material." David Sibley has a pugnacious insouciance as the brillantined, bow-tied journalist, with a touch of Brian Walden. Ben Daniels is a stiff-collared, upright naval lieutenant, turning red with indignation. While Kevin McNally's crisply dressed, authoritative consul has a toad like implacability. Impressive, all of them.
Titles mislead. There's no nudity in Naked and there's nudity before the first word in Everyman, which opened last year at Stratford and arrives this week in London. The English version dates from around 1500. In the introduction to the RSC's published script, Simon Trussler praises its "through-line of undeviating seriousness". The same cannot be said of the production. I'd recommend it to any young director. It's a catalogue of contemporary cliches.
Anonymous, of course, was one hell of a writer. And he/she wrote with a sobriety and simplicity that has its own beauty. Glance at the 48-page script and you wonder how directors Kathryn Hunter and Marcello Magni will spin it out for 80 minutes. Watch the first five minutes, in which the cast get nowhere near the opening line, and you wonder if you'll make the last tube home. The actors are stuck halfway between the psychological acting techniques in which they are trained and the fact that their characters are called Death, Beauty and Good Deeds. A cast of six are required to double, treble, quadruple and - in one case - septuple their roles. God (Paul Hamilton) looks as if he is a member of a middle-aged rock band. Everyman (Joseph Mydell) wears a cravat, waistcoat and button-hole. Goods (Hamilton, again) - with whom Everyman has a dicey homoerotic moment - wears black gloves, raincoat and medallion. Beauty (Johnny Lodi) is a cross-dresser in a veiled hat and pink shoes. Throw in some effortful tumbling, Far Eastern folk music, a mishmash of modern costumes, a ritual washing, foot- stomping, clapping, dancing, a battered refugee suitcase, wind effects and lightning, dry ice and back lighting. Everything is here. Everything we don't need.
The lack of trust in the material - a kind of RSC virus - is plain to see. When Death tells Everyman to "stand still" the next phrase "whether art thou going?" ought to make clear the point of the line. Here, when Death (Josette Bushell Mingo) says "stand still," she looks at Everyman's flies as if he's getting an erection. To find innuendo intruding at this point is dreary beyond belief. The values seem topsy-turvy. Looking above the actors there seemed to be five times as many lights as members of the audience. To get to the Pit you cross a car park, go along a tunnel, and descend to floor "minus 2" in a lift. Is it suprising that we are left with something - sponsored by the Firkin Brewery - that utterly fails to possess a spiritual dimension?
Only a few months ago Snoo Wilson was showing us - in HRH - where exactly, anatomically, the Duchess of Windsor liked to store her jewellery. Now he's at the Bush, for his 11th play there, portraying the bust-up in the relationship between Freud and Jung. Cherchez la femme. In this case, the 18-year-old Sabrina Spielrein, who was suffering from chronic hysteria and compulsive masturbation, whom Freud referred to Jung. The latter cured her and fell in love with her. Snoo Wilson's ribald play might have worked if he weren't himself a compulsive subversive. But the themes gambol around Sabrina, and ultimately undermine our interest. Fiona-Marie Chilvers designs quirkily inventive sets. Despite the vivid presence of Susan Vidler in the title role and a poker-faced Paul McGann as the man who saves her, this jauntily episodic account isn't for the Jung at heart.
'Naked': Almeida, N1 (0171 359 4404), to 28 Mar. 'Everyman': The Pit, EC1 (0171 638 8891), to 31 Mar. 'Sabrina': Bush, W12 (0181 743 3388), to 7 Mar.Reuse content