Though the scene and situation of Judy Upton's new play Sliding With Suzanne, premiered at the Royal Court's Theatre Upstairs prior to a national tour, are bleakly predictable, Max Stafford-Clark has given it one of his typically fiercely acted and finely tuned productions that constantly bring it to unpredictable life.

As a result, the unpromising premise crackles with raw and real emotion and - in the studio intimacy of this theatre - gives its somewhat studied structure a visceral power and sense of involvement with the characters that may not be entirely earned by the writing. Certainly the very final minute of the production - which suggests that Stafford-Clark could gainfully take to a career in movement as much as direction - is one of the most theatrically liberating and satisfying of the year so far, on a par with the final moment of epiphany in Richard Eyre's production of Amy's View.

But what precedes it is rather more earthbound. This is a bleak domestic portrait of a troubled 35-year-old woman whose relationship to her sixteen-year-old foster son, Luka, provides her not only with what passes for a career, but also what inevitably turns out to be a more emotional crutch. The play unravels this damaged and damaging relationship against the background of other long-term (her mother) and short-term (the 17-year-old boy from the corner shop) relationships we see her in.

Both author and director are immeasurably assisted in making both the woman and her plight convincing by the bruising performance of Monica Dolan in the title role. She is quite wonderful at registering the constantly evolving tensions, needs and emotions that the character moves through. No less impressive is the young Bryan Dick as her foster son and Danny Worters as the shop assistant she briefly sleeps with. The latter, who first came to attention as a child actor playing opposite Lindsay Duncan and Eddie Izzard in the 1995 West End premiere of David Mamet's The Cryptogram, is a teenager now, but proves to be an actor of real and exciting stature.

See it for these performances, if not for the play.

Mark Shenton