I HEDDA GABLER Established ior 25 years in New Zealand, this isthe lirst time that Downstage Theatre Company have tested theatrical waters abroad. They bring with them a new production oi lbsen's Hedda Oabler-the story ol a desperate woman alienated by the society she lives in.

St Bride's Centre (Festival) 27 Aug-1 Sept, 7.30pm, 30 Aug,1 Sept2.30pm. £5.50—£8.

I DR FAUSTUS This production irom Cambridge Experimental Theatre boasts a cast of only two.

It's hellish learsome all the same.

Marco's Leisure Centre (Venue 98) until 1 Sept, 3.15pm, £5 (£4).

I CARNAL, BLOODY AND UNNATURAL ACTS An interpretation oi Hamlet to chill the blood iromthe highly innovative Custard Factory Theatre Company. This version is slashed to an hour and a haliand concentrates on the corruption rile in the court at Denmark.

Edinburgh Playhouse and Studio (Venue 59) until 24 Aug, 8pm, £3.50 (£2.50).

I ROMEO AND JULIET Null Truck pulls it oil again with a street-wise production which is last. lunny and heart-wrenching in all the right places.

Assembly Rooms (Venue 3) until 1 Sept, noon, £6.50 (£5).

I SAVAGE/LOVE AND TONGUES Two women. two whistles and a heap oi percussion— it's notas noisy as it sounds and Cambridge Talking Tongues look set to scoop a whole whack oi awards with this Shepard double bill. Catch them it you can.

Old St Paul’s Churrh (Venue 45) until 25 Aug, 2.15pm, £2.50 (£2).

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Mighty Mahabharata

If four and a half hours of the Mahabharata strikes you as too long to spend on one show. remember that some members ofA&BC company have been involved with the Indian epic for nearly six years now. In fact, for them. it seems to have been a journey almost as fraught with problems as the journey undertaken by the two ill-fated families of the Mahabharata.

Even so. it came as some surprise to me to hear that the company had almost doubled its cast since May, for the one thing that really stands out about the production is the ease with which the actors— there are nineteen of them. and a musician work together. I think this is partly thanks to their on-stage warm-up: they invite the audience to be a witness as they slip into their characters and establish bonds with each other.

The company sets a steady pace and sticks with it admirably from start to finish. Part One is perhaps a little slicker. but I didn’t feel my attention flagging in Part Two. There is no scenery nor props, and one certainly does not feel the lack of either; it is a small stage and a big cast. after all. The actors all move

well, manipulating their bodies and facial expressions and sometimes seeming to reduce themselves to a profusion ofswirling colour. At other times they are patient spectators, or lifeless figures in a cameo. At all times they seem to he possessed of an enviable calm.

The production could almost be spell-binding if it were not for the poor script A&BC‘s own translation from the Sanskrit which consistently undermines the magic of the stories. I was also disappointed in the attempts to make it all humorously ‘relevant‘ for our times: the charioteer describes himself as,

and speaks like, a London cabbie. and later we are treated to an unoriginal Yorkshire miner impression. There are also snippets of music from The Pink Panther and Oklahoma. These inserts should be funny but they strike me as gimmicky and unnecessary. Worse still, they go some way to dispelling the magic of Mahabharata. (Miranda France)

I Mahabharata: Beginnings and Dice Game/Exile and War (Fringe) A&BC Theatre Company, The Netherbow (Venue 30) 556 9579, until 1 Sept, 3pm (on alternate days). complete performance 25 Aug, 1 Sept (not Suns), £5 (£4), both shows£10 (£8).

- Romeo and Juliet

Going to see Romeo and Juliet was a bit like trying to catch a chartered ilight to the Costa del Sol. Hordes of us caused havoc in George Street as we waited patiently to be allowed into the venue. Then an eiiicient woman with one oi those lollow-me signs arrived to guide us up the stairs and down a long grey gangway. Finally we emerged into the auditorium where another woman with a walkie-talkie told us to “move along the row.’ Full marks to the Assembly Rooms ior iantastic publicity when the doors iinally closed, the last walkie-talkie was switched oil and the lights went down, the atmosphere was a-buzz with excitement.

And the excitement was sustained. A good, punchy humorous start, with some oi the cast on stage spurring on Friar Lawrence’s prologue, set the scene and prepared the audience for a thoroughly innovative production which, while more iaithiul to the original text than most, is also very ‘contemporary'. The actors wear street clothes and add their own comments- like ‘that’s sexist!’ - seldom enough to get away with it. The most interesting ieature oi the production - and ior me the one that really brings the play alive

is the mix oi black, white and Asian actors and the accents and dress which go with each. Inevitany this casting puts the Montague-Capulet conilict in a diiierent light, although it is not by any means a laboured point.

Most impressive oi all is the casting. Claire Benedict’s periormance as the Nurse is so persuasive and so natural that you might wonder ii the part was originally written to be played by a sing-song, ululating Jamaican rather than by the anaemic little boy-actors of Shakespeare’s day. It is also interesting to see her playing a part so diiierent irom her recent wiry Lady Macbeth, with Odyssey Theatre Company. And those in-between-the-good-bits scenes, which always seem to ieature a lot at rather tedious word-games and tailing over, are brought to lite by superb periormances irom Miles Richardson

and Paul Drennen (Benvollo and Mercutio). Alterthe Capulets’ party, they delight the audience by rolling drunkenly onstage singing ‘Romeo, Romeo, Romeo’ to the tune oi ‘Here We 60'.

Daphne Nayar deserves praise for coming up with a Juliet who actually looks iourteen years old. She manages to be gawky and toothy and beautiiul, but pays the price by not being able to inject the necessary maturity into later scenes. To play, convincingly, a wise, eloquent, love-ravished iourteen year-old must be nigh on impossible and she compromises with a thoughtful, measured periormance. Roland Gitt’s Romeo is anything but gawky orthoughtiul. I liked his petulance and impetuousness. Admittedly, he has on his side looks and at least a hundred iiercely beating hearts in the audience.

The only real disappointment is the set. It's tacky, and I'm sure that it's meant to be tacky, but the enormous red and white iluiiy balls (the sun and moon, lthink), remniscent ola pairoi gigantic iluily dice, are more distracting than anything else. Minimalist sets are all very well but, let’s iace it, you can get too much oi dirty black boxes and sticking tape. (Miranda France)

Romeo and Juliet (Fringe) Hull Truck Theatre Company (Venue 3) 226 2428, until 1 Sept, noon, £6.50 (£5).

34’l‘hc Lis124— 30 August l‘)‘)il