Theatre: Dreams can come true ... with a puff of opium

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The Opium Eaters, tonight to 22 Nov

Director Paul Hunter's inspiration for The Opium Eaters came from reading Thomas de Quincy's Confessions of an English Opium Eater.

Hunter reassures that he is not trying to promote drug-taking. "Everything serves the story," he says. The play centres around three elderly prostitutes who aren't very good at their jobs, yet are amusingly jobsworthy. Their attempts to attract clients become increasingly desperate. As they go from subtle to overt, luck strikes when they each stumble upon money.

"There is quite a fairy-tale feel to it, as in the opium scenes where it enters the realms of fantasy," says Hunter. "It is a very simple idea about how money and friendship can be pushed to an extreme."

The play is written and performed by the internationally acclaimed all female trio, Brouhaha. Allison Cologna and Catherine Marmier formed Brouhaha six years ago and have since enlisted a third member, Jane Guernier.

"One of the reasons I was keen to do this performance was because it requires three very strong women performers, which provokes a certain chemistry," says Hunter. "They bring a lightness and softness that you don't often see in all-male `laddy' productions. I had to adjust to being the only man, and although many things are the same you don't get such a sense of in-your-face competitiveness."

The combination of ingenious stage design - a cupboard opening into a brothel, for example - and the choreographic training of the actors, suggests that this performance could rival opium on the sensory level. Hunter promises "a dream-like quality, with the opium hallucinatory effects, you are never sure that it has actually happened!"

Young Vic Studio, 66 The Cut, London SE1. Tickets pounds 8-pounds 6. Box-office: 0171-928 6363

Jennifer Rodger

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