THE premise was certainly appetising, albeit a little familiar, in April De Angelis’ latest play Amongst Friends, which opened this week at Hampstead Theatre.

As the lights come up on the minimalist, yet cleverly designed set, we find Lara (played by Cold Feet actress Helen Baxendale), a paranoid and agoraphobic tabloid journalist in strained conversation with husband Richard (Aiden Gillett), an MP and crime writer. The couple have moved to a fashionable “gated community” from where, ironically, they can shut themselves away from the very “rabble” they both write about or claim to defend in their professional lives. But since living there, Lara has developed an overwhelming fear of the outside world.

To remedy this, Richard invites old neighbours Caitlin (Emma Cunniffe), a nurse with a penchant for writing books about breasts and Joe (James Dreyfus), a cynical drugs counsellor, to dinner, but best laid plans soon go awry. Lara is not impressed by her guests’ arrival and tensions arise. Then we discover Richard formerly had an affair with Caitlin (and still has an infatuation with her), while Lara it seems, had a brief dalliance with Joe. Two already fragile relationships are then tested further with the arrival of the “uninvited guest” Shelley (Vicky Pepperdine), a “psychic psycho” who throws the entire night off kilter.

Throughout the play, Angelis serves up some deliciously witty one-liners and sharp observations. “Didn’t you used to work in a mental institution?” Richard asks Lara, who replies monosyllabically: “Briefly - it was good preparation for tabloid journalism.” There’s also an appreciated capturing of the zeitgeist, with references to MP’s expenses and New Labour’s policies. The cast are in fact, faultless in their performances, particularly Baxendale and Dreyfus, who deliver just the right amount of animosity and attraction needed to portray their complex relationship.

And yet the play falls short of being more than just average, possibly because the plot, which builds up so well in the first act, fails to actually go anywhere in the second. The audience finds themselves questioning just how this story will resolve itself, and it seems Angelis may well have done the same with an unsatisfying conclusion.

Amongst Friends runs until Saturday, June 13, 7.30pm at Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage. Check with theatre for matinee times. Details: 020 7722 9301 or