Dark tormentors at the nursery gate

First Night The Play about the Baby Almeida Theatre, London
Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE MIDDLE-AGED couple in Edward Albee's classic play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? has invented a fantasy son who is the object of some of their most vicious marital games and who needs to be cathartically killed off.

Some 30-odd years later, there's a strange, distorted echo of this at the close of Albee's latest work, The Play about the Baby, unveiled now in Howard Davies's sophisticatedly larky and beautifully acted production at the Almeida Theatre in Islington.

Here, though, it is a young, inexperienced couple who are eventually browbeaten into agreeing that their flesh and blood baby, who has been stolen from them, was always a mere phantom. Only then will their tormentor- testers let them be.

On an almost bare set the play brings into conflict two generically dubbed couples.

They are the twentysomething boy and girl whose sexy glow of animal health is effortlessly projected by Rupert Penry-Jones and Zoe Waites.

Chasing each other naked across the stage, they are in vibrant contrast to the fiftysomething man and woman, whose quizzical, archly self-dramatising manner Alan Howard and Francis de la Tour convey with a delicious dark drollery.

If Albee's last play was called Three Tall Women, this latest piece could at times be nicknamed Four Thin Stereotypes.