Bad Weather, RSC at the Barbican Pit

There are some enjoyable things about the RSC's production of Robert Holman's Bad Weather. The grim Middlesborough council estate, battered by the inclement weather and gangs of local ruffians, is cleverly depicted by Ashley Martin-Davies's steel and concrete set. There are some fine performances too, especially by the younger members of Steven Pimlott's cast. But in the end, none of this can disguise the fact that Holman's sprawling play is overlong, absurd and sometimes just plain baffling.

Bad Weather begins in the aftermath of an 'altercation', with one youth injured and another two in court. Of this pair, loudmouthed Luke gets off, whilst his quiet but highly-strung accomplice Jamie (Ryan Pope) is sent down, because he won't 'grass up' his partner. In fact, Jamie is doubly unlucky since it transpires he's got Luke's garrulous, bottle-blonde sister Rhona (Emma Handy) pregnant, too.

It's when Jamie's mother, Kay (Susan Brown), wanders into this bleak landscape that alarm bells start ringing, though. The thing is, she's more of a Home Counties mummy than an in-yer-face Northern fishwife, so naturally you believe Brown has been tragically miscast. But no, Holman tells us, Kay is one of those riches-to-rags stories, a French chatelaine who threw in the bourgeois lifestyle when she decided she couldn't handle all the 'tradition' and emigrated to glamorous Teesside.

You could expect this sort of move, plus a harrowing court case, to take its toll on anyone's sensibilities, so it's little wonder Kay claims to be 'mixed up' and 'empty inside', then seeks solace in the brawny arms of Noel (Barry Stanton), one of the jurors.

Paul Popplewell's Luke stands out as an aggressive waster who, when he isn't hurling house bricks or obscenities, utters unbelievable profundities like, 'Indecision runs through you like the plague if you let it'. Which, I suppose, you could forgive him for, if it weren't for the fact that later he seduces Kay's 70-year old ex-nanny, Agnes, when the gang decamps to France for a brief holiday.

It is here, in the chateau of Kay's childhood that some sunshine cancels out the metaphorical bad weather of the title and the story takes a short-lived, turn for the better. Kay returns to Middlesborough to offer her incarcerated son the support he needs, Luke softens under Agnes's discipline, and Noel and Rhona get the grime out of their lungs and the angst out of their systems.

Bad Weather is a play which throws together some interesting contrasts: affluence versus poverty, innocence versus guilt, storm versus sunshine, and age versus youth. While this is entertaining in parts, Holman's work makes for a frustratingly incoherent whole.

Richard Forrest