First Night: Conjuring up the universe on an empty stage

`Demons & Dybbuks' The Young Vic London
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This revival of Demons and Dybbuks is a spirited rallying by Mike Alfred's Method and Madness Company, which last spring went into receivership, thus bringing to a premature end a most laudable experiment. First surfacing at the start of 1998, the project established a group of 10 actors committed to working exclusively with each other over a three- year period on a gradually emerging repertory which would tour nationally.

The concept was a magnificent rebuke to British theatre, where if actors remain together for 12 months they are considered a seasoned ensemble.

Audiences rightly raved over the production of Platanov which the Maly Theatre of St Petersburg brought to the Barbican in June. But people forget that such excellence is the fruit of a "permanent company" philosophy where five years of work can go into a piece before a script is finalised.

Demons and Dybbuks is a fluent adaptation of 12 short stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer that move from the Polish shtetls of his childhood to the apartments of his refugee life in New York.

This first London airing is the result of a group of Method and Madness actors joining forces with Theatre of the Moment.

Performed on a rectangular stage edged with piles of books and with no props other than an array of wooden chairs, it is a marvellous showcase for the company's skills in fluent, deceptively simple story-telling, co-ordinated movement, and understated, witty mime.

Attired in identical dark suits or dresses and picked out in shifting pools of light, the actors conjure up from this bareness an imaginative universe that is impish in the deepest sense of the word.

Whether it be on a tour bus from hell in Spain or at a Manhattan party, this is the world where people trail the demons of European Jewry's tragic past. But here that tragedy has a habit of being recycled as hilarious guilty farce, as the hapless writer-character and Singer-surrogate finds himself on the receiving end of desperately unwanted responsibilities.

The guilt of the survivor is strong in tales such as the one where a refugee can't decide whether the insulting waiter on his liner is an astral projection or a delusion.

The company has such lightness and delicacy, it make one impatient for what will hopefully be a more long-term reconstitution.