The title of Philip Osment's dark, disturbing new play, {Buried Alive::L1315552001}, resonates throughout its dense but deep dramatic landscape. A photojournalist, Stewart (Paul Higgins), has won an award for his picture of a state execution in Afghanistan in which two men, found guilty of buggery, are buried in gravel and left to die a lingering death: "the authorities wanted them to have time to think about their perversion while they died," he explains to Ammy (Michelle Joseph), who has come to interview him for a profile she's writing on him and his work.

As the play cross-cuts between the present (at Stewart's Suffolk house and in Edinburgh) and past (to Stewart's childhood in late 1970s Edinburgh), this is not the only instance of being buried alive that the play demonstrates. In an early flashback scene, the young Stewart and his two sisters, Kate and Liz, find an injured seagull on a beach, but their merciless mother, Margaret, covers it in sand.

In the serious, searching and painful drama that is played out there, a complex portrait emerges of a family's suffering at the hands of a dominating matriarch (a superbly remorseless and unforgiving Veronica Roberts). Less convincing are the links that Osment makes from that to Stewart's current predicament, as he takes over the care of his troubled teenage Brazilian son (Simon Trinder) who has come to England to stay with him.

But in the finely textured production of Mike Alfreds, this harrowing play is given its full metaphoric as well as dramatic weight in performances that ache with suffering and intensity.

The two sisters, and the terrible revenge they eventually wreck on their parents, are played by Jane Arnfield and Louise Bush with heartbreaking truth. Among the other highly damaged people that populate this play, too, are their mentally disturbed father Andrew (Gary Lilburn) and predatory uncle (John Ramm, who is unrecognisable from the character he plays in the National Theatre of Brent, and an actor of immense stature).

{Buried Alive::L1315552001} is a highly layered, deeply patterned piece that's not easy to enjoy, but ultimately, it is so involving that it more than repays the effort.

Mark Shenton