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Review: Pinter at the Pinter – The Lover/The Collection

Hayley Squires in Pinter Two. Photo Marc Brenner
Hayley Squires in Pinter Two. Photo Marc Brenner

Welcome to pink ‘n chintzy Pinter. Dark, morbid, foreboding, and threatening…? Not so much, in Jamie Lloyd’s production of The Lover, the first of a two-part Pinter show, paired with The Collection. No, the decor in
The Lover ranges from a blush tint through shimmering roseate to various shades of salmon (excellent lighting design by Elliot Griggs), with stylised ’fifties furniture, an uber-functional tablecloth, pot plants and one of those semi-obligatory Pinter hatches. Along with copious amounts of booze, of course. And coupled with this vibrant assault on the visual senses is a savage assault on the aural senses with completely over-the-top performances of the ironic kind from the word go. Does it work? No – not for me. ‘Fifties living rooms were dark and gloomy places – just like Pinter’s plays are dark and gloomy places – which is why blinds, crucial to the plot here, had to be opened to let in some light. Just as Pinter’s dialogue has to be opened to let in some light. But that opening process is through the slow-burn, the painstaking construction of building blocks, the torturous journey to the destination at the end of the play. Not the beginning.

Whilst one accepts that The Lover can be played two ways – tongue-in-cheek, ironic comedie de moeurs or edgy-nervy erotica-fantasy – to survive the full-on, in-yer-face, syrup-ladled irony on show here you need to take it with a pinch of salt and the Pinter I know has never needed to be taken with a pinch of salt. Whilst I’m loath to criticise Director Jamie Lloyd, whose track record with Pinter is exemplary, I think this production is a liberty too far. I can quite see that if you are putting together an inspired season of Pinter’s one-act plays as is currently happening at the Pinter Theatre (19 plays in all) then you are probably going to be delving deep for innovative interpretations to add some variety to the retrospective. But the individual productions have to stand
and fall on their own merits, I believe, not as just one act in a long-running sequence. The Lover, for me here, is all gush and no gumption.

Hayley Squires (Sarah) can handle the OTT irony well and is very watchable but there is a kind of sceptical undercurrent to her performance which seems to suggest that she’s not completely comfortable with the heavily stylised nature of the piece. John MacMillan on the other hand, in playing Richard, just goes for it in full gung-ho gusto mode with little regard for the intense quality of the language that he is parroting. We are in “playing for laughs” territory here and there are plenty of them: but there is always humour, darkly reflective humour, in Pinter’s words, which will surface naturally, if allowed to. I don’t think Pinter would approve.

David Suchet in Pinter Two. Photo Marc Brenner
David Suchet in Pinter Two. Photo Marc Brenner

In the second half of the show, normal service is resumed with The Collection. This really is an under-the-surface menace with the dark recesses of flawed personalities being exposed, gradually, into the half-light. David Suchet is Harry, the bitchy, anxious, skittish, excitable house-sharer with the much younger fellow dress-designer, Bill, whom Harry discovered in a slum, and their relationship is all drama queen bickerama. Newspapers often appear as props in Pinter plays and here Harry wants Bill to cease reading one. Not because he wants to read it himself but because he wants Bill to stop reading it: a rather pathetic attempt at control-freakery as he tries to stave off the inevitable loss of Bill to younger, more beautiful, people. This may be behind the slightly bizarre self-removal of Harry’s wig at the end of the show and whilst we have completely forgotten that Suchet is playing Harry, through looks and acute acting ability, we have a sudden, slightly disconcerting snatch of Poirot as the curtain falls. (Apologies for pointing that out). I don’t know if the script calls for it to happen (my guest suggested its the mask slipping) but I’d be inclined to leave it on.

The performance of the evening comes from Russell Tovey as Bill. Tovey is all laconic menace, all louche provocateur, lurching smoothly from cheeky chappie to emotion assassin with his needle-sharp ripostes and dissing put-downs. It’s a great performance of a quintessential Pinter character-type and the purity of Tovey’s bloody-mindedness is always real, not stylised, not over-the-top.

Jamie Lloyd again directs and this time, thankfully, we move on from pink ‘n chintzy Pinter to some good old common or garden menace laced with ambiguity: which to me is what Pinter, ultimately, is all about.

4 stars

Review by Peter Yates

Two miniature comedic masterpieces from the 1960s, The Lover and The Collection, which explore secrets, lies and seduction, are directed by ‘major Pinter interpreter’ (Financial Times), Jamie Lloyd.

Playful and provocative, The Lover features a conventional, suburban couple in unconventional circumstances. The Collection, hailed as one of the outstanding plays of the 20th Century by Laurence Olivier, delves into the intriguing mystery of two London couples linked by sexual desire and a quest for supremacy.

Cast includes David Suchet, Russel Tovey, Hayley Squires and John Macmillan

Book Tickets for The Harold Pinter Theatre

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  • Peter Yates

    Peter has a long involvement in the theatrical world as playwright, producer, director and designer. His theatre company Random Cactus has taken many shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, the London Fringe and elsewhere and he has been associated with the Wireless Theatre Company since its inception where his short play Lie Detector can be heard: Wireless Theatre Company.

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1 thought on “Review: Pinter at the Pinter – The Lover/The Collection”

  1. Absolutely excellent review! although a great evening out, the first play is not well served by the cartoonish comedy approach, which is far too unsubtle for Pinter, and reduces not only the dramatic effect but also oddly enough the comedic effect. I wasn’t convinced by MacMillan (in either piece), and Squires just stopped doing the silly antics and reverted to normal acting as soon as she could.

    The Collection is masterful, not just Tovey but also Suchet, as well as, of course, the text itself. Brilliantly directed.

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