Writer: Harold Pinter
Directors: Lyndsey Turner and Ed Stambollouian
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
After three successful collections, Jamie Lloyd hands over the directorial reigns for the fourth outing of Pinter at the Pinter with mixed results. Lyndsey Turner directs the 1993 70-minute piece Moonlight while Ed Stambollouian takes charge of the latest revival of 1979’s Night School, which together give Pinter 4 a domestic focus looking at dysfunctional family life and its consequences.
Of all the shorts presented so far across many hours of performance, Moonlight is the least satisfactory. While Lloyd’s season has brought clarity to Pinter’s work allowing the viewer to understand and enjoy his approach, there is something frustratingly unknowable and ambiguous about Moonlight. Although its themes of father-son relationships, memory and fear of death are clear enough, something keeps the audience on the outside.
As Andy lays apparently dying, he revisits the past with his wife Bel while awaiting the arrival of his sons Jake and Fred and daughter Bridget. But none of them are coming. As hints of Andy’s irascible nature and memories of his former social and sexual power return to him, his sons consider the effect of their father, while Bridget seems in another world entirely.
Robert Glenister is excellent as Andy, projecting images of the man he once was, angry, forthright and entitled but scared of the unknowability of what’s to come and eager to see his children one last time. Al Weaver’s Jake and Dwane Walcott’s Fred predominantly play-act as other people, possibly mocking their father’s former life as they try to come to terms with his death, leaving a question about timelines between the two settings which is never resolved.
Turner’s approach is also the most conventional so far, a confined box containing a traditionally shabby bedroom decked out entirely realistically by designer Soutra Gilmour, with additional locations either layered over the top or staged in front. The shifts of tone are effective, adding an eerie quality to Bridget’s monologues that are given a visual link to Red Riding Hood, as well as the hyper-real interjections from seductive Maria (Janie Dee) and friend Ralph (Peter Polycarpou), but how this all hangs together is less obvious, and given the verve of the other pieces, a tad disappointing.
By contrast, Night School is an absolute delight, a 50-minute play that is a joy from start to finish. Directed by Stambollouian, the story of Walter returning from prison to find his aunts have rented his room to schoolteacher Sally, is presented in a heightened comic tone that is just exaggerated enough to draw attention to the foibles of the characters while still making the story credibly engaging.
In an inspired twist, Stambollouian has added a drummer (Abbie Finn) to control the rhythm of the piece, adding occasional beats in moments of extreme tension or change, as well as providing the music for the scene changes. Crucially it draws out Pinter’s interest in the collision of different worlds which drives Night School as the familiar and respectable working-class boarding house meets the seedy nightclub scene linked by the enigmatic and controlled Sally.
Jessica Barden has a strange dominance as the mysterious schoolteacher, permanently calm, unruffled and unemotional, her presence and absence equally create a tension for the other characters that drives the story. Having Barden observe scenes from the back nicely emphasises the effect Sally creates and gives her a watchful and controlling quality that adds to her mystery.
Weaver well conveys the disconcerting effect that Sally has on Walter, arousing first his suspicion and then his passion with a very carefully styled scene in which the two circle one another in the room that belongs to them both. Dee and Brid Brennan are wonderful as maiden aunts Milly and Annie relishing Pinter’s almost poetic appreciation for domestic detail with talk of cakes, coverlets and dusting revealing two slightly nosy women with a small-world approach, while Glenister exudes plenty of gruff masculinity as their landlord Solto who takes the audience out into the squalid nightclub to learn the truth about Sally.
Pinter 4 is a mixed evening, enjoyable and full of accomplished performances but with a tougher and slightly more impenetrable proposition in the first half that may frighten people away in the interval. But stay for the second half because Night School really is one of the highlights of the season so far, proving that taking the right approach makes Pinter’s work seem fresh and endlessly inventive.
Runs Until 8 December 2018 | Image: Marc Brenner