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Actors excel in superb drama

A Steady Rain, Criterion Theatre, Earlsdon, to Sept 9.

It's Chicago and two cops - best friends since boyhood - are speculating about why being white is getting in the way of their promotion prospects.

We in the audience can quickly see why they are struggling, but while Joey (Matt Sweatman), is prepared to at least try to cut out some of their non-politically correct bantering in the locker room, his married partner Denny (Jon Elves), simply can't spare the time.

The powers-that-be are "leaching the testosterone out of the law".

And so begins their story on the starkest set imaginable. Two chairs. Two men. Only the occasional blast of hard-edged street music from British artist Rag and Bone Man punctuating their un-deleted expletive-fuelled dialogue.

The two roles are a gift for any actor at the top of his game. Which is exactly where we find Elves and Sweatman.

Apart from a short interval I sat for two hours along with the rest of the Criterion audience, hardly daring to draw breath as their story, brilliantly dramatised by Mad Men writer Keith Huff, unravelled before us.

Partly based on a true event, when this two-hander first opened on Broadway eight years ago, it was Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig who took on the roles. I can't believe either did a better job than Elves and Sweatman on Monday night.

Both master American accents with different inflexions from their supposed Irish and Italian backgrounds and while they spend a good deal of time in conversation with each other, director Richard Warren has them turning to look directly at us, at key moments in the play.

Early on we learn that the gentler Joey has a drink problem, and that fiercely proud family man Denny has been trying to save his pal with regular invitations to dinner at his house - combined with introductions to "suitable" women.

But cops in downtown Chicago don't know all that many suitable women.

And Denny has secrets of his own that come rapidly to a head one night after somebody fires a gun through his lounge window.

This is not a play for the squeamish or easily offended. It is one for anybody who appreciates superb drama.

Pictured are Matt Sweatman (left) and Jon Elves: Actors at the top of their game.

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