Featured Plays: The Lover and The Collection
Writer: Harold Pinter
Director: Jamie Lloyd
Reviewer: Alex Ramon
The first production in Jamie Lloyd’s ambitious six month season of Harold Pinter’s work brings together a selection of the playwright’s post-1980 political pieces for an intense and sometimes hard-hitting evening. This second production is a more overtly crowd-pleasing proposition. Often staged together, The Lover and The Collection are two works from the early 1960s that take adultery as their theme. At their best, they look like sketches for issues that Pinter would go on to investigate in more depth in his later dramas; at their worst they look like slightly smug ‘60s relics that haven’t aged too well.
Lloyd’s productions here fall somewhere between these two stools. Opening with jaunty music that telegraphs the play’s comedic elements and takes it into the realm of sitcom, The Lover, from 1962, presents Hayley Squires and John MacMillan as a well-to-do couple apparently engaged in mutually acceptable extramarital liaisons. That façade of politeness and tolerance is stripped away during the course of the piece, though, as the couple’s insecurities about their roles, and the entire performative nature of their relationship, gradually becomes clear.
Soutra Gilmour’s pink-walled set looks something out of Home, I’m Darling, and Squires and MacMillan ham up poshness throughout. The actors’ enthusiastic performances do keep the viewer engaged but The Lover is ultimately thin stuff that falls back too readily on homemaker/whore stereotyping.
Though not without some problems, The Collection, from 1961, is rather better. MacMillan and Squires re-team here as James and Stella, a couple whose relationship is tested by her (apparent) dalliance with another man, Bill, in a Leeds hotel room. Tracking Bill down, James discovers him to be involved in a homosexual relationship with the older Harry. Gilmour’s design presents the domestic spaces of both couples simultaneously, to suggest their overlapping fates.
The usual Pinter concern with female “inscrutability” is very much to the fore in The Collection, and though, stuck with a weak role, Squires manages to come through stylishly; spotlighted at the end of the play, she suggests a prototype for Ruth in The Homecoming.
As Harry, meanwhile, David Suchet contributes a petulant, queeny caricature that suggests nothing so much as an audition for the Ian McKellen/Derek Jacobi sitcom Vicious; it’s a crowd-pleasing performance that gets a lot of laughs but one that relies on gay stereotyping that seems as dated as other aspects of the piece. As Bill, Russell Tovey parades in his pants and – inevitably – gets shirtless; an interlude of mimed fellatio takes the homoerotic subtext between Bill and James firmly into the realm of “text”, but Tovey nonetheless delivers a canny performance that brings a compelling mix of innocence and knowingness to the various power plays. And, as in The Lover, MacMillan reveals his skill at bringing the comedy out of Pinter’s dialogue. No one would argue for The Collection as a classic Pinter work, and even less so far The Lover; still, these productions – solid rather than sensational – boast enough engaging elements to make the rest of Lloyd’s season an exciting prospect.
Pinter at the Pinter runs until February 2019 | Image: Marc Brenner