This is a perfectly good revival of a slippery, fascinating short 1985 play by David Mamet in which a phony clairvoyant sets out to cheat an unnamed thirty-something woman, Miss A, in dealing with her dead motherís estate.
But itís a very thin evening, just about an hourís worth, and should have been paired with something else, perhaps a short Coward or Pinter play, to both give better value and place Mamet alongside writers with whom he shares affinities of subtlety and shadowed meaning.
In The Shawl, the conmanís younger male lover is standing by to learn the tricks of the trade and also press for a more thorough-going deceit. Itís an elliptical text usually given on a double-bill, as it was in the Royal Court in 1986 when Richard Eyre directed it with silken artistry alongside Max Stafford-Clarkís thrilling realisation of a Mamet radio play, Prairie du Chien. Amelia Nicholsonís staging floats enticingly in the centre of the Arcolaís large industrial space, Anna Bliss Scullyís stark and anonymous interior Ė itís not clear, crucially, whether Miss A is visiting John, the adviser, or vice versa Ė glowingly lit by Richard Howell.
This mysterious Miss A, beautifully embodied by the dimpled, slyly inquisitive Elizabeth McGovern, soaks up the non-stop prodding of Matthew Marshís four-square John, who belies his thuggish appearance with a battery of nifty sidesteps, adjustments, guesses and foxy manoeuvres; as he says at the end, 90 percent of all right-handed people have a scar on their left knee. Miss A, of course, never knew it was there.
With Paul Rattrayís trickster Charles skulking on the sidelines, Nicholson Ė who has acquired a growing reputation on the Fringe, most recently with Howard Barkerís Victory at this address Ė maintains exactly the right sort of pace and tension.
Whether or not John has experienced a psychic vision is unclear. Mamet deliberately marks out his text in four short acts, which could be labelled the set-up, the tactics, the sting and the pay-off. We skim notions of belief, betrayal and prescience in a shawl of language as beguiling as the item of clothing we glimpse in a flash of material evidence.