A triple bill forms Pinter Five, the rather unimaginatively (if consistently) titled latest instalment in the ‘Pinter at the Pinter’ series, in which a whole load of miscommunication goes on. This could, justifiably, give rise to some frustration for some members of the audience, given the relentlessness with which a sheer inability for characters to have straightforward conversations is repeatedly demonstrated. In ‘The Room’, Rose Hudd (Jane Horrocks) begins by doing all of the talking, leaving husband Bert (Rupert Graves) to sullenly and silently have a bite to eat and a cup of “weak tea”. Bizarrely, it appears to be breakfast, served at dusk.
One of those plays that raises more questions than it resolves, it is very much an absurdist piece of theatre. While Rose insists that she keeps herself to herself, and has only moved into the area very recently, so has yet to establish even cordial links with the local community, Riley (Colin McFarlane) somehow knows her by name. The violent reaction from Bert shortly after seeing Riley is nothing short of xenophobic, and what is not said speaks (as it were) as loudly, if not more so, than the dialogue itself. To feel unsafe in one’s own home – there are few ‘first world problems’ more disturbing.
‘Victoria Station’ is, for a Pinter play, remarkably easy to follow. Driver 274 (Rupert Graves) is in his minicab when the Controller (Colin McFarlane) uses the cab firm’s radio to contact him. But Graves’ 274 is unable to answer any of the Controller’s questions directly – though I suppose if he did, this would make for an even shorter play. The Controller loses control, so to speak, and in a mixture of anger and exasperation, threatens 274 if he doesn’t proceed to Victoria Station to pick up a client (hence the play’s title). “I’ll suck you in and blow you out in little bubbles. I’ll chew your stomach out with my own teeth. I’ll eat all the hair off your body. You’ll end up looking like a pipe cleaner.” 274’s stoicism even after that is either commendable, or foolhardy.
‘Family Voices’ sees Voice 1 (Luke Thallon), the son of Voices 2 and 3 (Jane Horrocks and Rupert Graves) give details of his new living arrangements now that he has left the family home. The staging is quite impressive for something originally broadcast as a radio play in 1981. Thallon is indefatigable, adopting the personas, mannerisms and accents of each of the acquaintances he writes home about – of various ages and backgrounds – magnificently. There’s some poignancy in the play, particularly when it becomes apparent quite why there haven’t been many words exchanged between father and son in recent times. The voices narrate the letters they have written to one another and collectively comprise an intimate portrait of relatives speaking (or rather, writing) frankly.
I took Pinter Six to be observations on how the other half lives. ‘Party Time’ saw a resurgence of the sort of view Pinter One took of state control, cold and calculating, with an approach best summarised as ‘you ask no questions, and we tell you lies’. I can see why Pinter is seen in some quarters as a misogynist. All that Dusty (Eleanor Matsuura) wants to know is what has happened to her brother Jimmy (Abraham Popoola), as she has not been seen or heard from for some time. Gavin (Phil Davis) is adamant. “Nobody is discussing this. Nobody’s discussing it,” adding, “If you’re not a good girl I’ll spank you.” Very much an ensemble play, the sheer lack of civility amongst the guests in this dinner party is intriguing and, admittedly, a tad shocking.
‘Celebration’ is set in an expensive restaurant, or rather a restaurant with an expensive menu, and the set does make for a respectable ambience. There are three couples, Lambert (Ron Cook) and Julie (Tracy-Ann Oberman), sat together with Matt (Phil Davis) and Prue (Celia Imrie). The former are marking their wedding anniversary. Sat separately are Russell (John Simm) and Suki (Katherine Kingsley). In what would appear to be an indictment of the state of theatre and live performance at the time the play was written, everyone has been to see something but nobody can remember what on earth they saw. Vicious but enjoyable, it’s business as usual for the talented casts and absurdist narratives at Pinter at the Pinter.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Marking the 10th anniversary of the revered playwright’s death, Pinter at the Pinter features all Pinter’s short plays, alongside a selection of his poems and sketches.
Pinter at the Pinter is an unparalleled event featuring the short plays written by the greatest British playwright of the 20th Century, in the theatre that bears his name. They have never been performed together in a season of this kind. Each play runs for a limited number of performances.
The season is presented by The Jamie Lloyd Company, ATG Productions, Ben Lowy Productions, Gavin Kalin Productions and Glass Half Full Productions.
The Room / Victoria Station / Family Values – Directed Patrick Marber
Pinter Five season runs 13 December – 26 January
Harold Pinter’s first play, The Room, features in a triple-bill directed by Pinter’s colleague and friend, Patrick Marber.
An all-too-familiar and frighteningly topical brand of English xenophobia runs through this darkly funny and unexpectedly odd play from 1957. In the hilarious Victoria Station and the reflective Family Voices, isolated voices attempt to communicate, but can we ever truly express the depths of our feeling?
Cast includes Rupert Graves, Jane Horrocks, Colin Mcfarlane, Emma Naomi, Luke Thallon and Nicholas Woodeson.
Party Time / Celebration – Directed by Jamie Lloyd
Pinter Six season runs Thursday 20 December 2018 – Saturday 26 January 2019
A scathing and bitterly amusing attack on the increasingly powerful and narcissistic super-rich, set against the backdrop of terrifying state oppression, the highly pertinent Party Time is paired with Harold Pinter’s final play, Celebration.
Celebration is an irresistible comedy about the vulgarity and ostentatious materialism of the nouveau riche, set in a fashionable London restaurant. An evening of social satire that chimes with our times, directed by Jamie Lloyd.
Cast includes Ron Cook, Phil Davis, Katherine Kingsley, Celia Imrie, Gary Kemp, Eleanor Matsura, Tracy-Ann Oberman, Abraham Popoola, John Simm.
Book Tickets for the Harold Pinter Theatre