An eclectic mix of plays make up ‘Pinter Three’ and ‘Pinter Four’, though audiences are spared the foreboding dystopia of ‘Pinter One’, as though the Pinter at the Pinter season is now saying, ‘Been there, done that’. Pinter Three ploughs through eleven short scripts, the longest of which was the final one, A Kind of Alaska, an intriguing play, which – according to the programme (which is so flimsy it doesn’t give much else away) was inspired by a book by Dr Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) first published in 1973. Deborah (Tamsin Greig) can’t understand why her younger sister Pauline (Meera Syal) could now pass for her older sister, but according to Dr Hornby (Keith Allen), Pauline’s husband, she has been in some sort of semi-conscious state for 29 years and has only become fully sentient again by way of an injection.
This might have been something quite amusing if she were in a position to leave her bedroom and go out into a world that would have changed so much in those 29 years. As it is, Deborah elicits some sympathy, not so much because she must assimilate a lot of new information (or, to be more precise, information new to her) quickly, but more because Hornby and Pauline have not told her everything she ought to know at once, presumably so as not to overwhelm her. But she frames a worldview based on what she has been told, and it is only inept because of the unknown. Greig puts in a tour de force performance as Deborah, capturing the thought processes of someone still with some schoolgirl characteristics in her personality.
Landscape, meanwhile, is practically plotless, or at least this production of it is. Beth (Tamsin Greig) speaks into a microphone, and what turns out to be her husband Duff (Keith Allen) is sat apart. It’s a marriage that exists only in name, with mostly subdued emotions, until Duff gets vehement towards the end of the play, in an attempt to obtain some sort of response from a spouse who is lost in her thoughts. Then there are the monologues, one of which happened to be called Monologue, which sees Lee Evans deploy the sort of comic timing that comes from years of experience on the stand-up circuit. An observation about the British weather left a considerable number of audience members in stitches (it just so happened heavy rain could be heard falling on the roof of the Harold Pinter Theatre at that moment). In recalling the past, the character does little to persuade the audience that he really has moved on from it.
God’s Country was a piece of comic relief in the intensity of the other plays. Meera Syal takes on the role of an American missionary (of which denomination, I have no idea) who has found nobody in need of salvation in her mission field of Putney. In Girls, Tom Edden plays a frustrated man who overanalyses an article in a magazine which he doesn’t even have a copy of any more, to the point where his conclusions are absurd and ridiculous, though put across in an amusing way, with an unexpected (to me, at least) late twist.
Pinter Four was an easier watch, comprising two one-act plays, though this may be partly because some of the same themes are in evidence. Moonlight sees another couple, Andy (Robert Glenister) and Bel (Brid Brennan) in a marriage that is nearing its end: Andy is, or so he says, on his deathbed, and begins recounting happier times. Their daughter, Bridget (Isis Hainsworth), seems go to around wandering lonely as a cloud, so to speak, and their sons, Jake (Al Weaver) and Fred (Dwane Walcott) do well with what they’re given, but they’re not given much beyond some mildly amusing witticisms and name-dropping of perhaps two-dozen or more off-stage characters who attended some function or other.
Night School sees Walter (Al Weaver), or ‘Wally’ to his aunts, Annie (Brid Brennan) and Milly (Janie Dee) return home after a spell in prison to find that the said aunts have let out his room (for whatever reason, they believed he was detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure, and therefore wasn’t going to come back any time soon). But the story is really about Sally Gibbs (Jessica Barden), who, back in the days when it was possible to be both a schoolteacher by day and something else in the evenings, is the lodger who has the run of what was Wally’s room. There’s some good live drumming from Abbie Finn, who also gets some dialogue towards the end of the play, and brief but humorous appearances by the aunts’ landlord, Solto (Robert Glenister). As ever with Pinter, I found some of the proceedings quite impenetrable, but I suspect those who enjoy his plays are assured of a more than satisfying evening.
Review by Chris Omaweng
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.
Landscape / A Kind of Alaska / Monologue – Directed by Jamie Lloyd
Pinter Three season runs 25 October – 8 December
Landscape and A Kind of Alaska, directed by Jamie Lloyd, are spellbinding evocations of loneliness, isolation and the strange mists of time.
Landscape is a minimalist marvel: a woman is locked in a beautiful memory and her husband demands to be heard. In A Kind of Alaska, Deborah awakes from a twenty-nine-year sleep and is suspended between the conscious and unconscious worlds. In Monologue a man sits alone addressing an absent friend, their close relationship having been pulled apart many years ago.
Cast includes Keith Allen, Tom Edden, Lee Evans, Tamsin Greig and Meera Syal
Moonlight – Directed Lyndsey Turner
Night School – Directed by Ed Stambollouian
Pinter Four season runs 1 November- 8 December
The brutality of family life and the subjectivity of memory are explored in the emotionally raw and richly funny Moonlight, directed by Olivier Award winner Lyndsey Turner, in which the past haunts the dark, lonely recesses of a dying father’s bedroom.
An East End criminal returns home from prison to find his room has been occupied by a mysterious woman with a secret. Set in the sweaty nightclubs and claustrophobic boarding houses of 1960s London, this is a rare opportunity to see the brilliantly witty and vivid Night School, directed by the inventive young director, Ed Stambollouian.
Robert Glenister, Bríd Brennan, Janie Dee, Isis Hainsworth, Peter Polycarpou, Dwane Walcott and Al Weaver in Moonlight
Jessica Barden, Bríd Brennan, Janie Dee, Abbie Finn, Robert Glenister, Isis Hainsworth, Peter Polycarpou, Dwane Walcott and Al Weaver in Night School
Pinter at the Pinter
Harold Pinter Theatre