Bridewell Theatre, London EC4
Opened 14 November, 2000

Young Israeli playwright Oren Lavie's first English piece Lighting The Day was so admired that after its initial run last year it transferred to the King's Head. It seems to have inhabited much the same territory as the two pieces (out of five as originally written) presented here as Bridges And Harmonies the major difference being that whereas in his earlier play Lavie concerned himself with the relationship between a playwright and his muse, this diptych at least broadens the focus into other art forms and less explicitly inspirational connections. In each of these separate but intercutting stories we see an artist (composer/pianist Alex and painter Peter) unable until in either physical or emotional extremis to admit his feelings for the woman in his life (Alex's wife Jane is in the process of leaving him, Alice is Peter's new lodger) and engaging instead in elaborate defence mechanisms (prickliness and humour respectively).

If this sounds like precious student self-absorption, the reality is richer. True, Lavie writes with youthful insight rather than mature experience, but he hits his targets often enough, and more than entertainingly enough, to sustain the evening. In this respect, his own direction supports his script admirably: the potential for the material to be treated as plonking sententiousness by another director is great, but Lavie the director ensures that Lavie the writer's work is always sardonically underplayed. He draws a bunch of fine performances from his principal actors: Peter Blake is nicely bottled up as Alex, convincing himself out of necessity that he is embittered, Neal Foster (who took the corresponding role in Lighting The Day) comically double-bluffs away the torch he carries for Alice, and Kedysha Sassi as Alice herself does everything required of her by way of looking astonishingly beautiful and being offbeat and fragile.

Lavie's stagecraft (he first came to London on a LAMDA director's course) is less sure, as he confines Foster and Sassi for no obvious reason to the rear of a deep stage. Most notably, the Bridewell's stage is also large enough for him not to need to clear it of one set of actors before their counterparts begin the next scene; this can all be done with lighting. Unnecessary full blackouts and scene changes account for up to fifteen minutes of the hour and a half running time. It almost seems cavilling to note that Lavie's music and lyrics (yes, those are his too) are also a little overdone in the whimsy and Sondheim departments alternately. But there is a sizeable talent at work here, and once he feels he has set out his stall sufficiently and can begin peddling his true wares, I think we shall see some substantial achievements from him.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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