Soho Theatre + Writers' Centre, London W1
Opened 1 December, 2003

What a change Gordon Anderson has wrought on ATC. The Actors' Touring Company had already begun to shift its focus from classics to contemporary work under previous artistic director Nick Philippou, but Anderson has completed the transition with productions such as Bernard-Marie Koltès' In The Solitude Of Cotton Fields and Roland Schimmelpfennig's Arabian Night. Now he has contributed a spry adaptation of Joel Joan and Jordi Sánchez's current Catalan hit Excuses! for a co-production with their Kràmpack company.

Excuses! is, in every respect, an object example of the lighter side of Soho Theatre's programme. It's a sharp, moderately sensitive four-handed comedy of sexual manners set over a couple of dinners more than a year apart; it's directed by David Grindley with exactly the same flair he recently brought to a revival of the play's "godmother", so to speak, Abigail's Party; and it zips through in an hour and a quarter, leaving ample time for a second house of stand-up comedy in the same venue each evening.

Joan and Sánchez seem initially to paint their characters with a broad brush, but it's the second act that deepens and shades them. Where we had first seen Doon MacKichan's delightfully annoying Olivia as good-hearted but a compulsive complainer never satisfied by any arrangement, motherhood reveals the true scope of her commitments and concerns. Her husband Matthew (Alistair Petrie, rumpled beneath his receding mane of hair), originally endearingly put-upon and indecisive, comes to seem more unambiguously feckless and simply not up to the burdens of parenting. Matthew's best friend and fellow architect Christian, all young-gun careerist bluster and sixth-form sexual bravado, is devastated by his break-up with Suzanna, who in turn finds that her ambitions of media fame are realised at a personal price.

Through it all, the chuckles keep coming at a series of beautiful touches, whether from the author's vision, Anderson's English phrasing, Grindley's direction or individual performances. It's a fairly slight piece, though not as much as it first appears, musing on modern temperaments and lifestyles rather than anything more profound. But it carries it off with verve and aplomb, and brightens up an otherwise rainy night in Soho.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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