Few grey areas - except for the attractive set

Review by Paul Nelson

The all out winner of this gloomy evening by Torben Betts, The Biggleswades, at the White Bear, Kennington Park Road, is the designer, who to emphasise the grey lives of the main characters has a surprisingly attractive grey set.

Everything - clothes, underwear, furniture, crockery, even the tomato ketchup bottle - is the same tone of prison grey.

There is, symbolically, a blue sky outside the barred window. Not surprisingly the play is about imprisonment. Not the penitentiary kind but imprisonment in the mind.

As days blend into other days, they are marked off with chalk on the grey walls, the endless ticking of the clock with no hands invigorates, as Mr Biggleswade gets excited.

Mrs Biggleswade seems to have a spirit of rebellion. She breaks the monotony of ironing, cooking and dressing and undressing her husband by using red lipstick, a red apron, but the wearing down process finally takes its toll.

The play is almost a seamless monologue for Jestyn Phillips, as Brian Biggleswade and I venture to suggest that the theme in the hands of another writer and a different actor, would have been risible.

As it is, Betts and his director Peter Craze make his horrific tale compulsive. It is a short evening composed of several scenes which take up less than 90 minutes, but the dialogue crackles as it exposes human deterioration through repetition of everyday acts such as going to work, eating, dressing, and reading newspapers.

Brian and his wife (Ilona Linthwaite) have a relationship that is bound to founder. When it does, the Friend (Richard Latham) who can be construed as prison visitor, community care worker or just plainly someone from outside the milieu, provides the last straw and everything within Brian snaps.

The resultant tragedy, staged so close to the audience, makes a terrifying finale to the evening. The play is bound to have a future, but the White Bear's stage is ideally suited to it.

It is worth canceling anything in order not to miss it.

The Biggleswades by Torben Betts at The White Bear Theatre Club, Kennington Park Road, London SE11 (0207 793 9193). Jestyn Phillips (Brian Biggleswade), Ilona Linthwaite (The Wife), Richard Latham (The Friend). Designer Margaret Forsyth. Directed by Peter Craze