Writer: Harold Pinter
Director: Jamie Lloyd
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
Harold Pinter’s career as a writer encompassed an era of unprecedented social mobility in Britain. Sparked by the end of post-War austerity, new opportunities opened up for the once disadvantaged, London’s East End and West End began to merge and members of the working classes moved up society’s ladder. The sixth in Jamie Lloyd’s Pinter at the Pinter season brings together two perceptive social satires which, perhaps, reflect on aspects of the playwright’s own life journey.
Party Time, first performed in 1991, is interpreted by director Lloyd in the form of a funeral. The characters, all dressed entirely in black, sit in a row facing the audience as solemn music plays and, seemingly, the arrival of a coffin is imminent. So this is a party? Well, yes and, as the eight revellers rise in groups to sip cocktails, nibble canapés and chatter inanely, we quickly realise what an absurd gathering this is.
Hosted by Gavin (Phil Davis), the partygoers are made up of male social climbers and power brokers, accompanied by sedentary women. Terry (John Simm) boasts of a membership to an exclusive club and orders his wife never to ask “what’s happened to Jimmy?” Melissa (Celia Imrie) bemoans the fact that good swimming and tennis clubs are all gone. Society’s ascenders and descenders meet in a sort of bourgeois cocoon, oblivious to a world outside in which, we are told, there is significant disorder. We wonder who Jimmy could be and, when Lloyd presents the answer as a near-apocalyptic event, the very foundations of the wealth which funds parties like this are challenged.
Celebration (1999), Pinter’s final play is about upstarts and interjectors. Lambert (Ron Cook) and Julie (Tracy-Ann Oberman) are celebrating their wedding anniversary at London’s most expensive restaurant, along with Lambert’s brother Matt (Davis) and his wife Prue (Imrie) who is also Julie’s sister. At another table (although seen at extreme ends of the same table as the celebrators in this production) are Russell (Simm) and his wife Suki (Katherine Kingsley). They are hoping to get a leg-up in business from the brothers whose occupations, we suspect, may not be entirely legitimate.
All six diners come from lowly origins and Pinter finds comedy in clashes between their coarseness and the expected refinement of a high-class establishment. The writer sees a new social order in which money and good taste no longer match up, with the restaurant owners, Richard (Gary Kemp) and Sonia (Eleanor Matsuura) striving to bridge the gap. Abraham Poppoola’s waiter, repeatedly interjecting with preposterous stories about his grandfather, steals many of the laughs. In the hands of a company of comedy actors as accomplished as this, Lloyd’s production could never have been less than highly entertaining.
The passage of time has softened the satire in Celebration. The nouveau riche have now become the established rich and the codes of good manners with which they once clashed have faded into the more distant past. Furthermore, the misogyny in both these plays should not figure in modern attitudes and, to some extent, their revivals feel a little like watching old Carry On films and laughing at how things once were. That said, with six laps of his Pinter marathon now successfully completed, the time is approaching when, deservedly, it will be Lloyd’s turn to celebrate.
Runs until 26 January 2019 | Marc Brenner