TWO brave new pieces of theatre played to an enthralled Courtyard audience last week.

Tackling the themes of family, financial hardship and suicide, The Keep was like an omnibus episode of Emmerdale. While the characters all struggled for dramatic supremacy the script lacked depth. There's something exhausting about everyone yelling, shoving and swearing and one member of the audience moved back from the stage because she felt 'too involved'.

There were some nice ideas from writer Nicola Jones and the play, set on a hop farm, is extremely relevant to this locality, but the overall effect was cluttered: too many issues for an hour and fifteen minutes and some unfeasible plot development.

The Kicking District by Christine Roberts made a refreshing change of pace after the interval; this time taking domestic violence as its subject matter. That two women a week are killed by current or ex-partners is a statistic that sticks, which - I imagine - was the writer's aim.

The tremulous, vulnerable wife Mary - excellently played by Jude Alderson - struggles to have one evening away from the marital home, 'doing Shakespeare' with a community group for a television documentary.

Husband Derek (David Kershaw), ritually strips her of confidence and dignity - retaining her mobile phone and cash - before she leaves the house.

The contrast between the relationship in the home, and the one Mary builds with the three women she meets, was wonderfully evoked with subtle and sensitive handling by director Estelle van Warmello - lending humour to the pathos, and creating a much-needed escape valve to the pressure build-up.

Julie Harries