Review: Rank

By John Nathan, November 13, 2008

Tricycle Theatre, London NW6

Two of the most enjoyable plays at the most politically committed venue in the country have had nothing to do with politics. Conclude from that what you will, but the Tricycle has not hosted a show so deserving of hit status since The 39 Steps, which for the past two years has gone on to enjoy success in the West End and on Broadway.

And although, like that play, Robert Massey's comedy, written for Irish company Fishamble, belongs wholeheartedly to the thriller genre, unlike The 39 Steps, Rank is neither spoof nor homage, but stands as an example of that rare thing, a genuinely tense modern thriller.

It is amazing how much tension is derived in Jim Culleton's superbly acted production from the mere presence of a cricket bat. In the hands of Dublin gangster, moneylender, sex phone-line operator and all-round thug Jack Farrell (Bryan Murray) it is more intimidating than any pistol.

Which is why even the wisecracking poker-playing Carl (Alan King), who has lost thousands in Farrell's casinos, is taking his creditor so seriously. Carl has until midnight to pay or he is going to be hit for six, and then some.

Possible rescue arrives in the form of Carl's fellow cab drivers Bush, played by John Lynn, and the reformed George (Eamonn Hunt), who has unfinished business from the bad old days with Jack. The gambler versus money-lender are classic thriller ingredients. But anyone with a taste for poker will spot that Massey uses them to not only get inside the mind of the addict, and his need to hit rock bottom before he can cure himself, but also explore the psychology of the high-stakes bluff.

True, the ending feels a bit pat, and rather truncated. But getting there is a lot of fun.

(Tel: 020 7328 1000)

Last updated: 10:54am, November 13 2008