God only knows what God Only Knows is doing in the West End. This new play by Hugh Whitemore toured the regions earlier in the year, and looked like mercifully expiring there. But it's suddenly been resurrected for a new life.

Whitemore is another senior English dramatist who has fallen out of favour, luck, or both lately, and, like Simon Gray (whose fortunes have recently been restored with the fine Japes at the Haymarket), has seen his immediately prior work to this fail to reach the West End.

In Whitemore's case, however, his last one - Disposing of the Body, seen at Hampstead Theatre - was far superior in every way to this verbose and unconvincingly executed theological thriller. Such things don't come along every day - thank God. If there is a God, that is... which is the rhetorical, and inevitably unanswered, question that lingers over and permeates the play.

The evening peace of a Tuscany holiday of two English couples is suddenly shattered by the arrival of a stranger in their midst, Humphrey Biddulph, an English expert in medieval manuscripts who has lately been working at the Vatican.

He has just had a car accident nearby, and has recently stumbled upon a deadly theological secret that could destroy the very precepts of Christianity itself. More urgently, he needs to avoid being destroyed by the Vatican - which has a vested interest, of course, in ensuring that this news doesn't reach the outside world. Thus is the basis of Whitemore's drama improbably set up. It goes on to lurch from unbelievable thriller to a still more unbelievable discussion on the nature of religious belief.

Though Derek Jacobi, as the hunted Humphrey, and a fine quartet of actors - (Francesca Hunt, Margot Leicester, Richard O'Callaghan and David Yelland (the latter no relation to the editor of The Sun) - as his wary, reluctant hosts, try to bring some electricity to the proceedings, Anthony Page's dull production fails to generate any heat.

As the curtain fell, I thought that perhaps there was a God after all - only because the play was mercifully short.

Mark Shenton