In A Dark Dark House Almeida Theatre Islington HHIII Neil LaBute’s early work often seemed lik

PUBLISHED: 12:16 11 December 2008 | UPDATED: 15:41 07 September 2010

Two star rating Neil LaBute s early work often seemed like David Mamet- tinged dispatches from a world in ethical meltdown. But, curiously, while his latest offering contains more tenderness – and autobiogra

In A Dark Dark House

Almeida Theatre

Islington

Two star rating

Neil LaBute's early work often seemed like David Mamet- tinged dispatches from a world in ethical meltdown.

But, curiously, while his latest offering contains more tenderness - and autobiographical content - than of late, it lacks the writer's usual bite.

Here we meet Steven Mackintosh's disgraced (and unconvincing) lawyer Drew who is being visited in rehab by his solid, security guard brother, Terry. Drew has been ordered to clean up after a drug-assisted car crash and thinks the judge will be influenced if Terry attests to the childhood sexual abuse his brother suffered at the hands of a mutual friend.

This being Neil LaBute, we are soon enticed into a world of not always surprising plot twists and recreational cruelty. But, although LaBute is often accused of professional misanthropy, he's more a distressed messenger describing the moral mess we're stuck in.

But here one's sense is of a playwright trying too hard. Where past work such as In the Company of Men featured tautly believable dialogue, this much- revised offering sounds jarringly self-conscious. Particularly grating is when the designer workwear-sporting Terry responds to Drew's evasions by telling him "nothing's gonna come of nothing... so try again." Believable speech, or the sound of a writer who can't resist a Shakespeare reference? Elsewhere, the dialogue is too obviously press- ganged into exposition or plot development duties; particularly when Terry admits that he too was molested by their friend ("I believe you, and I suppose you know why").

Eventually, David Morrissey's Terry, whose violent facial semaphore needs toning down, realises that "people are capable of anything": something we don't need to visit a theatre to clock. And the play's psychoanalytical model of conflict - talking cure - and resolution smacks of American TV drama.

The playwright's programme note invokes the spirit of writers like Anton Chekhov, Arthur Miller and Sam Shepard. But despite Michael Attenborough's directorial efforts and a fine turn by Kira Sternbach as Jennifer, this play suffers in comparison to the work of such figures.

Until January 17.

David Gavan


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