Dennis Kelly is an intriguing, disturbing playwright whose new work, a jigsaw puzzle of modern urban life in seven short scenes, opens the new studio in the re-launched Young Vic. In fact, the Maria – so named in memory of the talented, much lamented designer Maria Bjornson, still celebrated in her Phantom of the Opera designs – is much the same as the old studio, a square box with ugly grey breezeblocks.

But it feels new, and perhaps higher, with room for a striking, curvilinear wall of a design by Anna Fleischle, full of drawers and cupboards, that is easily transformed from a telecommunications sales office to a bedroom, a sleazy West End pub, a dining room and a hospital corridor. Impersonal and clinical, the world Kelly describes is indeed a nasty place.

David, knee-deep in debt, is conducting an e-mail romance with a French colleague. His wife Jess may be dead, he may have killed her. He has a mole on his arm that a potential employer, an old friend (future girlfriend?), notices fondly when humiliating him with an offer of a low-paid job, not even in sales. David and Jess have a huge row after she has seen a man stab another man in Oxford Street. She begins to disintegrate.

Two elderly parents lament their daughter’s death – was she Jess? – and the father describes the act of incensed vandalism he has committed on a neighbouring, ostentatious temple tomb in the graveyard. The mechanics of modern capitalism are the subject of two central, adjacent scenes: at a dinner table, the rat race is anatomised in short sharp declarations while Jess yearns for the material comfort of handbags; in a Soho dive, a dirty old man introduces a misfit office worker – she put wallpaper paste in the office coffee machine and smeared the insides of a mouse on a Christmas card - to the options of the sex industry and asks for her underwear as a memento. A memento mori, in effect.

It is riveting stuff, and Kelly’s writing – bitter, jagged, surprising – is a continuous pleasure, even when the language is deliberately provocative and the chronology unclear. Matthew Dunster’s production, first seen at the Royal Exchange studio in Manchester, is quite exceptionally cast and acted, with two of our most brilliant young actresses – Claudie Blakley and Kellie Bright (as Jess) - bolstered by John Kirk as David, Joanna Bacon, Paul Moriarty (as the older man) and Graeme Hawley. The short sharp show has an Out of Joint feel about it, but it also confirms Kelly’s unique talent after his Osama the Hero fantasy at Hampstead and the apocalyptic love story After the End at the Traverse and Bush.

- Michael Coveney


Note: The following FOUR-STAR review dates from October 2006 and this production's earlier Manchester run.

With credit card spending on the up and many people in the UK living over and above their means, Dennis Kelly’s Love and Money could not have opened at a better time. This co production from the Royal Exchange and The Young Vic explores the concepts of greed and desperation in the name of love.

From the opening scene featuring high flyer John typing a frank email to an overseas lover, you are instantly reminded of Patrick Marber’s Closer. The raw edge of Kelly’s writing is biting and caustic, often making you laugh out loud at the darkest of monologues.

Other elements of this vibrant production are reminiscent of the excellent film Magnolia. But this piece is no mere carbon copy of better plays or films. It has a life of its own thanks to the ingenuity of the script and the skin deep performances.

The narrative juxtaposes monologues delivered by characters all connected by cold hard cash or plastic dreams. Pay grades, pensions and prostitution are all major talking points in this cruel expose of the human psyche.

One man talks of his desperation following his wife’s suicide attempt and his feeling of relief that their debts may have died with her; only she survives. The feeling of ‘what now’ is etched on John’s pained face as he searches for a solution.

We follow various tales of addiction and the lengths people will go to. But this clever play is also about quashed dreams and ambitions; robotic like existences and the need to collect furniture in order to have a room like the model in the catalogue, the C list celeb, or even Mrs Jones, next door.

Claudie Blakley has all the best lines as a believer (“I believe in money!”), although Kellie Bright’s Jess is so recognisable, her plight will affect you as this reality definitely bites. John Kirk gives John an everyman quality which makes his trip to the edge more believable.

The end section starts to grate slightly as, like the play itself, it is slightly over ambitious. But Matthew Dunster directs at such a frantic pace evoking the ‘spend, spend, spend’ world that the characters inhabit so beautifully that this is a minor flaw.

This tale of debt, desires and ultimately death is well worth paying to see.

- Glenn Meads (reviewed at the Royal Exchange Studio, Manchester.)