Some Explicit Polaroids at the Ambassadors Theatre

If you'd been away from society for the last 15 years, what changes would you expect to see on your return? The rise of drug-related crime? The advent of AIDS, the Internet and New Labour? More to the point, would you be happy with what you encountered?

Nick (Nick Dunning), the central character in Mark Ravenhill's new one-act play Some Explicit Polaroids clearly Isn't. Newly-released after serving a long sentence for GBH, he looks around at a meaner, tougher Britain than the one he left behind, and finds he can't cope.

Everywhere, values seem to have been turned on their head: his former girlfriend Helen has swapped her militant beliefs for a cushy job in local government and bought a council flat; Daffy go-go dancer Nadia (Fritha Goodey), allows her boyfriend to beat her up so he can 'express his Fear'; while her friends, HIV+ Tim and his Net-sourced rent-boy Victor eschew love and spirituality in favour of trash and nihilism.

The deeply socialist Nick soon sinks into alcoholism and vagrancy. But a turning point seems to come when former victim Jonathan (David Sibley) tracks him down. He doesn't need to beat Nick up in revenge, he mutters, 'looks like the world has already done that for me.' Instead he lectures Nick on the winning ways of capitalism, provides him with some clean clothes, and a different perspective on life.

Out of Joint's Max Stafford-Clark oversees some fine individual performances, chiefly from Russell Barr, who plays Tim both as an AZT refusenik and a white-faced ghost. Matthew Wait stands out as camp, narcissistic Victor, as does Sally Rogers' ambitious, foul-mouthed Helen.

Julian McGowan's dark, minimalist set design isn't much to write home about, but at least it adds to the bleakness, while changes of scene are punctuated by back-projected video clips and some top-volume hi-energy music.

Ravenhill, author of the much lauded Shopping and F***ing has mixed comedy, tragedy and spiky dialogue in equal amounts here, to create a bleak comment on society. The play doesn't always work for me though; I found I couldn't drum up much sympathy for most of the characters, the graphic sex scenes, while amusing, were a touch gratuitous, and I didn't buy the naiveté of Nick. It all made for a provocative, but strangely unfulfilling evening's entertainment.

Richard Forrest