Writer: Harold Pinter
Directors: Jamie Lloyd
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
The Pinter at the Pinter season has been a revelation so far, showcasing the writer’s work in interesting and unexpected ways, moving the conversation beyond the famous pauses and sense of menace to something far more varied and intriguing. Pinter 1 combined a series of political works that were filled with ominous overtones with brutal physical and mental violence, while Pinter 2 was altogether more chipper, musing on relationships and role play as couples supported and betrayed one another in equal measure. Pinter 3 emphasises the tragi-comic aspect of his plays and sketches focusing on delusion, memory and being on opposite tracks.
The first half of Pinter 3 is a surprisingly emotional and beautifully managed collection including one long duologue and several smaller pieces that cumulatively build to an aching sadness, a snapshot of lonely characters unable to escape the confines of their lives. Opening with Landscape, Beth (Tamsin Greig) and Duff (Keith Allen) recall a particular memory of their relationship. Grieg is soft, romantic and dreamy in her delivery, talking a bittersweet occasion that she recalls with pleasure, full of physical sensation, but with hints of the subsequent pain of loss. Duff, a practical and grounded man by contrast, evokes a brusque pub encounter, their two monologues competing and somehow complementing one another as Greig and Allen tune in to the painful emptiness of Pinter’s words.
Next, four short scenes also focus on loneliness, a telephone call between apparent lovers Gene (Lee Evans) and Lake (Meera Syal) repeating the title phrase Apart From That but still implying the unbroachable distance between them. Girls performed by Tom Edden beings with it a high comic pace, evolving into a series of speculations about a magazine article building well to a final confession of unhappy and unrequited love. This leads into the conversational That’s All as Evans and Allen enhance Pinter’s gossipy housewives with funny wigs and hilarious facial expressions, before Syal demands love in God’s District.
The first half concludes with Monologue, a hugely emotive short with Evans addressing an unseen best friend while reminiscing about a girl they once both adored. It has a much to say about the nature of love, loss, heartache, friendship and regret that Evans delivers beautifully, with a tenderness that marks an unexpectedly moving and welcome return to the stage.
The second half of Pinter 3 prioritises the comic silliness of Pinter’s work with a series of scenes from the late 1950s and 1960s. That’s Your Trouble is a heated pub argument between Evans and Edden, while Syal performs Special Offer about men for sale that merges her relist performance with an absurdist situation, before joining Edden in the duologue Night that initially mirrors Landscape as a couple talk at cross-purposes before reaching a more romantic conclusion.
The two best pieces of the post-interval shows are the short Trouble at the Works which relishes the language and comic rhythm of Pinter’s story about product dissatisfaction at a factory, and partnering this A Kind of Alaska, a play about a confused woman waking up after 29-years asleep to discover she and her family have changed. Although the attention occasionally wanders, Grieg is compelling as the young woman trapped in her girlish self and unable to compute the disconnection with her earlier life, while Allen’s kindly doctor becomes more exasperated with his patient’s questioning. It is a thoughtful and disturbing tale of disorientation and how memory can distort reality.
Pinter 3 is a well-curated selection of pieces strongly united by ideas of emotional devastation caused by love and the fondness of memory. Soutra Gilmour’s rotating set with stripped panels and decaying walls reflects the bleak decay of the characters, while Ben and Max Ringham’s soundscape of waves and rain creates plenty of wistful atmosphere. You rarely think of big emotion in Pinter, so this latest collection may catch you off-guard with a focus on loneliness that will tug at your heart. This season really is full of surprises.
Runs until 8 December 2018 | Image: Marc Brenner