The Theatre Royal Haymarket considers itself a cut above the other West End theatres; a programme costs four pounds and an icecream costs three, and they sell little souvenirs of your visit in the foyer. I was last there to see Judi Dench in Hay Fever (what joy!) and I wish I could feel similarly uplifted after seeing Edward Bond's The Sea. The first, last and only time I saw a Bond play was in 1971 when I went to his Lear at the Royal Court. Since the 1980s he's been something of an internal exile from the mainstream theatre -- still writing away but avoided like the plague by most companies. He has a reputation for being a nightmare to work with, which may account for it. But are his plays really any good? I remember being impressed by Harry Andrews' performance in Lear, and I was equally impressed by Eileen Atkins and David Haig in The Sea. My mood was lifted at the beginning by being upgraded from the upper circle to the grand circle -- tickets for this part of Jonathan Kent's bold experiment don't seem to be selling too well. I'm sure there is an audience for Bond plays in London, but it isn't among the people who can fork out £40 to go to the Haymarket. Atkins plays Mrs Rafi, an Edwardian madam who seems to be modelled on Lady Bracknell, with an acerbic chill reminiscent of Maggie Smith at her best. Haig plays Hatch, a demented haberdasher who believes his town is under attack by creatures from outer space. The fragmentary story begins with the drowning of a young man when a small boat overturns in a storm, but Bond isn't interested in conventional storytelling. His writing has flashes of Wildean brilliance (this is billed as a comedy) and there are a few genuine laughs, some of them generated by the wonderful Marcia Warren as Mrs Rafi's trodden-down lady companion. The characters are otherwise perfunctory. Unfortunately, my attention kept on wandering in a way that it never does during plays by Beckett and Pinter. I kept wanting to get onto Bond's wavelength, but I failed. I don't think it was because I didn't completely understand what was supposed to be going on; Pinter's No Man's Land is a good example of a play where the action is obscure, but the audience is riveted by trying to work it out. This seems to me a piece of writing that hovers somewhere between realism and non-realism but falls between two stools. All hail to Jonathan Kent for trying to broaden the West End menu with some intelligent fare, but I wonder if The Sea was the best choice for this particular theatre. In a smaller space such as the Donmar, it might have more impact. There's a very perceptive programme note by Mark Ravenhill, making the case for Bond as one of his favourite playwrights. Technically I think Ravenhill is much the better writer. I found The Cut, his play at the Donmar in 2006, unbearably tense and dramatic, while much of The Sea is overwritten and flabby.