Cuckoos, The Pit, Barbican, London

Paul Taylor
Monday 30 June 2003 00:00 BST

You've heard of coitus interruptus. Well, Cuckoos, a play by the contemporary Italian dramatist Guiseppe Manfridi, focuses on its reverse - a severe case of coitus ad infinitum. Tito, a young man of about 20, has been picked up by Beatrice, a woman twice his age, at the local health club, and they have gone back to his cruddy flat for congress. Sex is supposed to be bonding, it's true, but the overenthusiastic anal intercourse of this couple has left them literally and ludicrously inseparable. Some men have difficulty getting it up; our hero faces insuperable difficulties getting it down - and out, and the engagement keeps giving him involuntary orgasms. So he summons his father who, as a gynaecologist, may have the know-how and the instruments to prise them apart.

Peter Hall's immensely assured and stylish production was first seen three years ago at the Gate. It's revived now at the Pit and next month it will move to Bath. The superglued couple have been recast. Jessica Turner brings a wonderful Home Counties indignation to the role of Beatrice, telling Tito that she has "had enough of his back-seat driving" as they awkwardly manoeuvre themselves under a silk, modesty-preserving parachute in readiness for the medic. Having to simulate more orgasms in 80 minutes than most actors are called on to conjure up in a lifetime, Mark Rice-Oxley radiates a lovely, amusing guilelessness as Tito.

The best performance still comes from David Yelland, who played Tobia, the gynaecologist in the production's original outing. Exuding a hilarious mix of brisk, oleaginous professionalism and sniggering prurience, he can't conceal his pride that Tito, whom he suspected of being gay, has at last proved his manhood in spectacular fashion.

Rendered by Colin Teevan in a spry English translation, Cuckoos is a play that modulates from a kind of absurdist Carry On Coming to the extremity of Greek tragedy. The weakest part of the proceedings are the ingenious but not especially funny revelations of the bungled bed-hopping and chicanery in the past that lead now to the inevitable conclusion that Tito is Beatrice's son. "The edifice wrecked!" she shrieks. "Edifice wrecked!?" he cries, with abject apologies to Sophocles. In fact, Tito is a travesty of Oedipus, the horror of whose case is heightened by the irony that he is the detective of his own unwitting crime.

By contrast, Manfridi's hero is a shallow optimist and plays second fiddle to his supposed father in the uncovering of the truth. This, though, must be the first rediscovery scene in world drama where the son happens to be stuck at the time, in the anus of his long-lost mother. Showing that the penis is no respecter of the proprieties, his physical climaxes continue regardless. And what happens between then and the shocking conclusion will give Tito a unique insight into the meaning of "withdrawal symptoms".

To 12 July 020-7638 8891

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