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Harold Pinter’s The Dwarfs at the White Bear Theatre

Harold Pinter only ever wrote one novel. And, let’s be honest, he didn’t rush into this literary endeavour. He started it in 1950 and the book was finally published in 1992. During its extended gestation period, Pinter adapted the story into a radio play for the BBC and this was first performed in the Arts theatre in 1963. In 2002 director Christopher Morahan and the author Kerry Lee Crabbe asked Pinter for permission to work on the novel and the new
version of the play was performed at the Tricycle. Twenty years later, it has moved to Kennington where The Dwarfs has recently opened at the White Bear Theatre.

The Dwarfs - Denise Laniyan and Joseph Potter. Photo by Bec Austin.
The Dwarfs – Denise Laniyan and Joseph Potter. Photo by Bec Austin.

In London, three young men have gone through a lot together. They started as friends at school and that has carried on into their adult lives, where their friendship remains firm. They have very different lives. Mark (Charlie MacGechan) is a jobbing actor, Len (Ossian Perret) is fascinated by maths and has had a string of jobs and currently works at Euston station as a porter. The last member of the group is Pete (Joseph Porter) who works in the city and is in a long-term relationship with schoolteacher Virginia (Denise Laniyan). Although they are no longer boys, much of their banter and joshing is still of the variety they would have used at school, but the reality is they are adults now and slowly they find themselves questioning their perception of themselves and the others.

So let’s start with a confession. I know very little about Pinter and am not sure I have seen that much so I wasn’t sure what I was going to see. And I have to admit, The Dwarfs is a difficult play to watch. The narrative is composed of often quite short scenes – I believe it was over twenty in the ninety minutes runtime – with the four actors moving the scenery about and popping on and off stage in the darkness. Director Harry Burton has choreographed this well and each scene change is accompanied by some excellent music.

The story itself was, for me, very confusing. Aside from the fact that I didn’t actually like any of the men, I didn’t really understand how they had become friends at school, let alone carried that friendship on. Part of the problem was that I knew nothing about them. Reading up on the subject, I believe they were all at public school and Mark has some sort of private income, which explains his lax attitude to his acting, but that’s about it. I also didn’t understand why they were all in suits. Pete, I could understand, Mark for that matter sort of made sense, but Len was a porter at Euston, so a suit seemed a bit OTT. Again from my reading, I understand The Dwarfs is semi-autobiographical. In many ways, I hope not. Len seems to be, as they say, on the spectrum and Pete is a vile abuser whose friends seem scared to stand up to. Neither Len nor Mark stepped in when Pete had a massive confrontation with Virginia in public, and no matter when they play is set, this felt very wrong.

However, I do admit I loved Virginia – though again could not understand why she was with Pete – and felt a lot of sympathy with her and could actually understand the motivation for her actions in the latter part of the play. It’s not all moaning coming from me today and I do really want to heap praise on the actors.

You can see how I felt about the characters from the paragraph above and my strong reaction is down to both the writing and the strength of the performances. The actors were totally believable as their characters and really brought out every nuance and quirk of the person they were portraying. First-rate performances all round.

I have a feeling that The Dwarfs is something the Pinter lovers out there will absolutely froth over but I really didn’t gel with it. Despite at times truly wonderful and finely crafted moments in the script, along with the excellent performances, I found the narrative confusing and the characters repellent, and was sort of glad when it was all over, and I would no longer have to be involved in their lives.

3 Star Review

Review by Terry Eastham

Three old school friends, Mark, Pete and Len, knock about the streets, pubs and cafes of East London arguing the toss about art, life and love. The fourth member of their tight-knit group is Virginia, a young teacher. As autumn draws in, each of the friends finds their perception of one another and themselves irrevocably changed.

THE DWARFS is adapted from Harold Pinter’s only novel. Semi-autobiographical, it is a fascinating, disturbing and humorous study which contains the seeds of all his subsequent work.

Creative Team:
Director Harry Burton
Producer Kristin Tarry
Producer Charlie MacGechan
Associate Producer Jessica Pearce
Casting Director Martin Poile (currently Casting Assistant at the Royal Shakespeare Company)

Ossian Perret, Charlie MacGechan, Denise Laniyan, Joseph Potter.

10th May – 5th June 2022

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