Arts: The week in review

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The Book

`Night Train'

Martin Amis's latest work finds him dabbling in a new genre - the American cop thriller. Narrator Mike Hoolihan is a recovering-alcoholic female detective. The mysterious "suicide" of a young astro-physicist provides Hoolihan with something to get her teeth into, and Amis with a new context in which to play with words. Published by Jonathan Cape, pounds 10.99

"The New Amis is not just an exciting prospect but an event to be reckoned with," cried Geoff Dyer, responding to the new formula but still celebrating the trade-mark "Amisisms". "This might look like a crime novel; it is inescapably a Martin Amis novel... For us who are [Amis fans] there is plenty of enjoyment to be had," claimed The Telegraph. The Guardian, however, praised the "unresolved conflict between love and cynicism [which] gives this book a haunting unsettling quality that Amis has never achieved before". On the contrary, argued The Times, "Night Train is a slick, fast ride, but it lacks soul." "My trouble," John Updike told us, "is with the solution of the mystery and the point of the book." The Mail simply pleaded: "Why has Amis stopped writing in English?"

It seems that Martin Amis can reinvent himself as often as he likes - he remains loved and loathed in equal measure both purely on account of his being Martin Amis.

The Play

King Lear

Peter Hall directs his first King Lear at the Old Vic, a traditional production that lays the text relatively bare. Hall's adoption of the shorter Folio text adds to the responsibility of his actors to achieve credibility. As Lear, Alan Howard expresses much of his emotion with a powerful vocal performance. Inevitable contrasts with Richard Eyre's Lear highlight the production's conservatism.

In rep at the Old Vic (0171-928 7616)

Utterly distracted by Howard's over-blown "airborn vibrato" voice, Paul Taylor bemoaned his "dismaying lack of innerness" and Hall's reliance on the "worst kind of old-fashioned staginess". The Times agreed, wishing that "Howard would curb that magnificent mix of woodwind and brass, his voice", doubting that there was, "a man within the oratorio, a heart behind the music". Similarly, The Guardian witnessed "a feat of impersonation rather than a feat of self-revelation". The Telegraph, however, applauded "a production that combines an exceptionally fleet pace with exemplary clarity... [Howard] grows in stature as the evening wears on". "The most stimulating and provocative production Hall's achieved in years," announced the Standard, whilst admitting that Howard's "rage and grief are signalled more than experienced."

Memories of Ian Holm conspire against Howard's operatic performance. Hall doesn't manage to compensate for his lead's lack of subtlety.

The Ballet

Romeo and Juliet

The keenly anticipated return of the Royal Ballet is barely marred by its move to Hammersmith. Doubts as to whether the venue can be consistently filled are dismissed for a while at least, thanks to the reputation of Sylvie Guillem playing Juliet. Guillem did not disappoint, but the acoustics of The Labatts Apollo do not match those of the Royal Opera House. Labatts Apollo, Hammersmith, London W6, to 4 Oct (0171-304 4000)

Louise Levene looked on the bright side: "The only good thing about such a dauntingly large theatre is the blast of appreciative noise it can make when filled to capacity and Sylvie Guillem deserved every decibel. Jonathan Cope is never more ardent and convincing than when partnering Guillem." The Standard applauded Guillem's partnership with Jonathan Cope that "feeds the drama with power dancing. Each is so certain of the other that they pull off feats of luminous daring." The Telegraph expressed surprise at the nature of the audience: "The enthusiastic response did not seem entirely justified by the performance itself. Romeo and Juliet looks more and more like a pair of bedsocks that the Royal Ballet puts on whenever it gets cold feet." It conceded, however, that Guillem "is as idiosyncratically exquisite a dancer as ever".

The quality of Guillem's performance ensures a relatively smooth transition to the Royal Ballet's new home.

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