First Night: Distressingly awful drama of recovered memory syndrome

Anna Weiss; Whitehall Theatre, London
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MIKE CULLEN'S play, Anna Weiss, made its West End debut last night in a distressingly bad production by Michel Attenborough.

Instead of the traditional eternal triangle (husband, mistress, wronged wife), this play focuses on the infernal triangle of therapist, accused father, and alleged victim of appalling child abuse, brought to light by the "recovered memory syndrome". Potentially this set-up is of enormous interest and value. So what has gone so wrong?

Vicky Featherstone, a director I very much respect, masterminded the British premiere of this piece at the Edinburgh Festival a couple of years back. I did not see it then, but read the text and assumed there must be something I was really not getting.

Seeing it directed by another extremely honourable director I am driven to the reluctant conclusion that both of them have taken leave of their senses. Oh, it's intensely theatrical but in a way that leaves you wanting to wipe the scum off your turn-ups.

The set-up of the play is that, under the treatment of Catherine McCormack's psychotherapist who (rather significantly) gives the play its name, fragile, twentysomething Lynn (Shirley Henderson) has dredged up "memories" of ghastly childhood abuse at the hands of her father, David (Larry Lamb).

No play worth its salt on this subject would hinge on whether her memories were true or false. But, speaking as the father of three young daughters, I can only hope that any play which accuses a parent of child abuse would make the male character think harder than he does here. Because the central point is surely that, while you might be able to deny the sexual abuse, you would be haunted to distraction by one of your daughters bringing up these unfounded allegations.

This awful play makes half-hearted gestures in that direction but then caves in to the weasel-minded approach taken in David Mamet's celebrated play, Oleanna, about a professor who is accused of sexual harassment by a PC-obsessed pupil.

There it drove the accused male to doing something that seemed to corroborate the previously unsubstantiated accusation. Here that twist is even trashier. At least, with Oleanna, heat was generated, if not light. Both commodities are in starvation rations at the Whitehall.