Friday, September 15, 2006

Critic's Choice: Top Five Plays

by Kieron Quirke

Our reviewers select London's best plays, from Nina Rain's comedy Rabbit, to a clever cabaret from New York, and Brixton Stories' thoughtful snapshot of south-west London life...

Trafalgar Studios, SW1
Just when you thought no more fun could be had from the sex lives of middle class young adults, a play proves again that they are an inexhaustible mine of entertainment. Nina Raine's self-directed comedy has its clunks and dithers, but a knack for truth and dialogue plus some fine performances compensate for the naive moments. Birthday girl Bella (Charlotte Randle) and her chums, including seething ex boyfriend, Richard (Adam James), talk like your friends, but with twice as much eloquence and four times as much emotional honesty. Until 7 October. (0870 060 6632). Kieron Quirke

(I Am) Nobody's Lunch
Soho, W1
Our confused relationship with certainty is the theme of this clever, fun and, in all, rather brilliant cabaret from New York troupe The Civilians. It's based on interviews with ordinary Americans, covering two key modern issues: the war on terror and the sexuality of Tom Cruise. This isn't so much the documentary theatre as a network of lateral thoughts about the way human weakness affects our beliefs and loyalties, with Michael Friedman's excellent songs conjuring an atmosphere of general confusion. Great stuff. Until 23 September (0870 429 6883). Kieron Quirke

Brixton Stories
Lyric Studio, W6
One of the first lines in Biyi Bandele's uplifting look at south-west London life announces that Ossie Jones, immigration lawyer and father to Nehushta, is dead. In the subsequent 75 minutes, however, he is gloriously alive. He and his daughter wander their home streets, as the four-strong cast winningly introduce us to a kaleidoscope of local colour. Perfect fairy-ish Stories for the darkening nights ahead. (08700 500 511). Until 23 September. Fiona Mountford

The Madras House
Orange Tree, Richmond
There are strange, thematic echoes of Ibsen and premonitions of Lorca in Harley Granville Barker's critique of Edwardian society and its exploitation of women. The vital link in the play's episodic scheme is Timothy Watson's bleakly becalmed Philip Madras, a young man with a restless wife, eager to be shot of two family firms. His father, Constantine (Richard Durden) emerges as the embodiment of the sexual hypocrisy, cruelty and marital subterfuge that his son avoids. Granville Barker lacks Shaw's flair for provocation and polemic, yet his dark, Edwardian worldpicture remains worth viewing. (020 8940 3633). Until 14 October. Nicholas de Jongh

Caucasian Chalk Circle
The Scoop, SE1
Good things do come for free. The Steam Industry's pacy, bold and determinedly accessible revival of Brecht's epic masterpiece is playing for any passer-by outside City Hall. The politicians should be thankful. It isn't pure Brecht - director Phil Wilmott abandons a great deal of the playwright's ideology. But it is a wonderful whirlwind of action, and the energy of the cast and the appeal of a good myth simply told see it through. In rep until 17 September. Kieron Quirke