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David Benedict on theatre

Been aboard a warship recently? What, never? Hardly ever. . . Putting aside memories of WS Gilbert, London's latest theatre venue is none other than HMS Belfast, not exactly famous for its theatrical history. Wisely, they have dismissed drawing-room comedy as a genre and opted for something more appropriate. Until Saturday, Merseyside's Desperate Measures Theatre Company (right) is presenting Tom McClenaghan's Submariners, which takes places aboard a nuclear submarine.

Originally seen at the Royal Court Upstairs, the play is a study of the smouldering relationships between a group of naval ratings at sea for an eight-week patrol. The characters range from Splash, a body-building fitness fanatic, to Able Seaman 'Cock Roach who is trying to get out of the service by pretending to be gay. Alongside current parliamentary manoeuvures about gays in the forces, the tensions are manifest and highly topical.

The production was premiered in Birkenhead, aboard HMS Plymouth, another exhibition ship, so there are few surprises in store for the company, particularly for Terry Appleton (Splash) who served in the navy for six years. Audiences, however, have been surprised by the play. No simple pro/anti-war debate, the script is both highly comic and dangerously tense in its examination of interdependency and the sexual power games that the men resort to as the pressure builds. The good ship Lollipop it ain't.

8pm, HMS Belfast, Morgan's Lane, Tooley Street, SE1. Box office: 071-407 6434, extn 34

(Photograph omitted)

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