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
I welcome this series for slightly different reasons – largely because it offers those of us who are reasonably familiar with the major plays an opportunity to get an overview of Pinter’s dramatic work. Without it I probably would never have noticed the extent to which ‘Night’ and ‘Party’ feature in his titles (3 times each even without including similar words like ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Celebration’). I wonder if even Pinter himself noticed that, excluding prepositions, conjunctions, articles etc, the only words to appear in more than one title are ‘Night’, ‘Party’ and ‘Trouble’! That said, my feeling that neither direct political comment nor straightforward comedy/satire were Pinter’s forte is unchanged so far. In fact, Pinter Three rather confirms this. Overall, it’s probably the strongest of the four sets we’ve seen so far but the most striking thing, for me, was how much more effective were the two one-act plays at the start and end of Pinter Three than were the sketches in between.
I’ve loved Landscape since I saw the TV version with Ian Holm and Penelope Wilton. Tamsin Greig doesn’t quite replace Wilton as my definitive Beth but she’s very good. The decision to give her an Irish accent was interesting – largely because I’ve always thought Beth had something of Molly Bloom about her. Keith Allen was less impressive – at least on the night I saw the play. He stumbled over a few lines and gave the price of a pint as ‘one and three’ instead of ‘two and three’ (it’s definitely the latter in the text but those who didn’t know that must have wondered whether it was Allen’s mistake or Pinter’s characters being unable to calculate the difference between threepence and half a crown). Greig was also very impressive in A Kind of Alaska and, here, Allen was also very fine.
Lee Evans also gave a fine performance as the rather pathetic character in Monologue, the third of the pieces classed as a play but seeming to me to be somewhere between a sketch and a play. Evans – whose screen work (the little of it I’ve seen) I’ve never liked – showed a fine sense of timing and delivery as he addressed his lines to an absent (or imaginary?) friend.
The sketches, on the whole, were not nearly as good as the one-act plays. The exception was Night which, as you say, mirrors Landscape to a certain extent. Where Beth and Duff cohabit (successfully enough, it seems) without either of them taking cognisance of what the other is saying (or even of the other’s presence to judge by the way Greig, at the end, walked slowly past Allen without even seeming to acknowledge him) the unnamed man and woman in Night remember things differently but it doesn’t seem to affect their affection for each other. Tom Edden and Meera Syal portrayed the couple very effectively. The other sketches were, to varying degrees, amusing but kept reminding me of people who do this kind of comedy much better – Peter Cook, Monty Python, even The Two Ronnies. I thought Pinter Three seemed better attended than the others – the stalls were nearly full and, for the first time in the series, I saw people in the Balcony.