There's a line that jumps out of Rebecca Lenkiewicz's Shoreditch Madonna that just shakes one to the core. Nick (Adam Croasdell), a hanger-on in an arty dive in Hackney, has just been having a terrible angst-ridden fight with a suicidal young woman in a black evening dress and fur coat whom he has fallen in love with. `I love you', he declares to the fragile Christina (a shimmering Alexandra Moen). `Three days ago you didn't know I existed', she counters. To which Nick replies, `Three days ago some people were alive and now they're dead'.
That strange prescience with our own recent London trauma isn't the only thing that makes Lenkiewicz's new play so startling or gives it such a sense of cultural immediacy. Sean Mathias' production, by turns tender and techno-throbbing, also has something to do with it. But Lenkiewicz, who wrote the award-winning The Night Season, has caught current speech and ways of being that ring absolutely true. She also has another string to her bow, a poetic, metaphysical sense of other worlds – not necessarily religious, though, given the title, obviously a component - to do with the ghosts we carry around in our heads of dead loves and lost loved ones.
Very different from The Night Season, Shoreditch Madonna, written as part of Soho's Writers Attachment programme, is both more challenging and messier. Sometimes it feels as if Lenkiewicz is playing with just too many strands to do with obsession, the modern way of loving and reality versus illusion - though, to tell truth, the arty bit, for all the camcorder visuals, does seem a little tacked on. This is a play, after all, about relationships and honesty.
Still, Lenkiewicz hasn't lost her ability to lighten the tone of what, at times, becomes emotionally harrowing in the hedonistic world inhabited by Nick and his friends, Michael (Daniel Rabin), Hodge (Lee Ingleby, heart-clutchingly amusing as a rookie lover) and Leigh Lawson's degenerating old reprobate artist, Devlin.
Personally, whatever the shortcomings of the play, such is the charge of Mathias' production and the outstanding performances, I remained entirely hooked. And then there's Francesca Annis, sashaying and boogieing with more grace than someone half her age. Who wouldn't cross London to see her? Sting, Trudie, Ralph Fiennes (her husband) and Twiggy (Leigh Lawson's wife) certainly did. Good call.
- Carole Woddis