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Posts Tagged ‘Harold Pinter’

There’s something wonderful about visiting a 70-seat underground theatre a stones throw from Piccadilly Circus, where you have to cross the stage to get to the loo, to see four world class actors, directed by the man who ran both the RSC and NT, in three Samuel Beckett plays – for a few pounds more than going to the cinema around the corner. I love this city.

Beckett wrote twenty-two stage plays, many of them one act, some as short as fifteen minutes. You don’t always (ever?) entirely understand them, but you can bask in the language and exercise your brain finding meaning. Always fascinating and intriguing, never dull, somewhat addictive. I’ve seen about two-thirds of them. Another two will come along in three weeks with four more great actors in a theatre with 997 more seats!

The first of this triple-bill is Krapps Last Tape, where a man sits at a table reading his diary of some thirty years before, digging out, listening to and occasionally commenting on the meticulously indexed reel-to-reel tapes which contain the audio record of his 40th year. Oh, and he eats bananas. I’ve been lucky enough to see John Hurt and Harold Pinter, and now James Hayes in this fascinating memory play.

In Eh Joe, a man sits on his bed in silence listening to a woman’s voice in his head, his face telling you everything you need to know about his feelings as he listens to her. You can’t take your eyes off Niall Buggy, so expressive, whilst the great Becket interpreter and scholar Lisa Dwan voices the woman. This was written for TV. I first saw it on stage with Michael Gambon in a theatre 10 times the size but watching Niall Buggy, a few feet away, his face projected live on the wall behind him, was mesmerising, a way more intimate experience. Another memory piece, looking back.

The best is saved until last. The Old Tune, a radio play adapted from a Robert Pinget stage play, where two men in their seventies meet one Sunday morning and sit on a bench reminiscing, as the noisy traffic passes by. They have clear recollections, though they often differ, a source of irritation and indignation for them and humour for the audience. Memory again, but lighter and funnier and performed to perfection by Niall Buggy as Gorman and David Threlfall as Cream, a thirty minute gem that fully justifies its move from radio to stage and will stay with me forever.

These three plays belong together as if they were written as companion pieces. Though each was originally in a different form, they were written only eight years apart in the late 50s / early 60s. Trevor Nunn stages them beautifully, with help from set and costume designer Louie Whitemore, sound designer Max Pappenheim and lighting designer David Howe.

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When I first heard about Jamie Lloyd’s Pinter at the Pinter season – 20 of his one-act plays in seven groupings over six months – I thought it was laudable, brave and ambitious, but I’m not a Pinter fan (though Lloyd has recently lured me to a few revivals with fresh interpretations and exciting casting). I decided that it was all or nothing, and at West End prices, nothing won, but a spare evening and a great ticket deal lured me to this fourth, a pairing of plays 33 years apart, one I saw the first outing of and one I’ve never seen, and they couldn’t be more different.

In Moonlight, Andy is dying, lying in his bed with his wife Bel by his side. He reminices about events and people in his life. We also meet his estranged sons, though they don’t meet him, and two friends and a young girl also make an appearance. Lindsay Turner’s production has a dreamlike quality, but with scenes which are imagined or elsewhere played within the bedroom somewhat bewildering. I saw It at the Almeida in 1993 with a stellar cast that included Ian Holm, Anna Massey, Douglas Hodge & Michael Sheen and it seemed a very different play which this time round I didn’t find very interesting or satisfying.

Night School was a TV play and I’m not sure it’s been staged before. After the dullness of Moonlight, it seemed like a little comic gem and much more Pinteresque, or perhaps even Ortonesque. Wally returns from prison to find his family have let his room to a young teacher. He fails to get landlord Solto to loan him money to get back on his feet but he does persuade him to find out more about the new lodger, who turns out to have another occupation altogether. Brid Brennan (Bel in Moonlight) and Janine Dee are a terrific double-act as the aunts, Robert Glenister (Andy in the first play) is great as East End rogue Solto and Al Weaver (son Jake in Moonlight) excellent as Wally.

Very much an evening of two halves, only one of which I really liked.

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I keep breaking my ‘no more Pinter revivals’ rule, lured by the cast and / or creatives, in this case both, though maybe it’s a subconscious desire to one day understand his plays. This team certainly don’t disappoint, but I’m no further forward on the understanding front.

It’s the play’s 60th anniversary. If you’d told those that attended the eight performances of its premiere production that it would be selling out in the West end today, they’d probably laugh. The audience was in single numbers when it was pulled prematurely. Pinter’s comedy with menace / theatre of the absurd must have baffled then as it still does, with its cocktail of ambiguity, confusion, contradictions and political symbolism. I’m still not convinced even Pinter knew what it was about, or whether it being about anything is the point. Despite the bafflement, it’s still compelling.

Ian Rickson’s staging and the Quay Brothers design are as good as any. Zoe Wanamaker and Peter Wight are perfect as the couple running the seaside boarding house, her rather batty and him a beacon of ordinariness. The part of Stanley, the prime victim, really suits Toby Jones. Goldberg is unlike any other role I’ve seen Stephen Mangham play, so he was a bit of a revelation, doing menacing very well indeed, as does his sidekick Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as McCann. Lulu is a small part but Pearl Mackie acquits herself well.

My plea to producers would be to use creatives and actors I don’t like so that I don’t feel compelled to break my own rules, though rule-breaking can sometimes be rewarding…..

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It’s claimed that this Philip Ridley debut, on it’s first outing in 1991, started a new genre of ‘in yer face’ theatre. Well, in this site specific, immersive revival in the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall,  it’s certainly in yer face.

Ridley’s play is Pinteresque, but without the restraint and subtlety, sort of Pinter on acid. Brother and sister Presley and Hayley Stray have lost their parents and live as dysfunctional recluses on chocolate and pills. A ‘pretty boy and a black man’ are lurking outside in a car. The pretty boy, Cosmo Disney, eventually comes in, wearing a red glitter jacket, and starts intimidating them. Much later Pitchfork Cavalier, his sidekick, a giant incoherent black man clad from head to toe in a tight black rubber suit, joins them. He’s intimidating too.

What it’s all meant to be about is a mystery to me, but you have to admire the production and the performances. We sit on random chairs, boxes and other surfaces in a long narrow carpeted room lit by overhead, standard and table lamps. There are heating pipes overhead, a number or doors and windows and peeling paint on the walls. Designer Soutra Gilmore again. The actors pace and prowl the length of the space, sometimes a bit distant from you, but when they’re close they really are in yer face.

George Blagden is hugely impressive as Presley, having to carry the play ‘on stage’ most of the time, eventually drenched in sweat. It’s hard to take your eyes off Tom Rhys Harries as Cosmo, and not just because of that jacket; he’s terrifying, though not as much as Seun Shote’s Pitchfork, who towers over everyone and everything. Hayley is a difficult, underwritten role, but Hayley Squires does well with it.

Great to see a small scale Jamie Lloyd production, which betters the premiere at the Bush Theatre. It’s the perfect space for it and the performances are fine, but I’m not convinced it’s really worthy of revival.

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When I saw Patrick Stewart in Anthony & Cleopatra some time ago he had a throat infection but went on like a real pro. He was clearly suffering at Thursday’s performance of this play too, but he continued gallantly. It was inspirational to see two theatrical knights with a combined age of 153 still at the top of their game, and in Stewart’s case, determined not to disappoint his fans with an understudy.

I’m slowly reappraising Pinter, one of my problem playwrights, aided by recent revelatory productions by Jamie Lloyd and Matthew Warchus, and Sean Mathias now does for No Man’s Land what Lloyd did for The Hothouse and The Homecoming and Warchus did for The Caretaker. I don’t profess to understand it, but I do find it captivating, fascinating and funny.

Successful writer Hirst brings the less successful and somewhat scruffy Spooner home from the pub and they drink and chat (well, Spooner rather hogs the conversation). Hirst’s staff, Foster and Briggs, archetypal menacing Pinter characters, are introduced. In the second half, the following morning, Hirst does more of the talking as Spooner tries to get himself hired as his secretary. Foster and Briggs continue their intimidation and ambiguity.

It’s back in Wyndhams, the same theatre it transferred to (from the NT at the Old Vic) 41 years ago. Lancastrian McKellen plays Spooner, named after a Lancastrian cricketer, the role originally played by John Gielgud. Yorkshireman Stewart plays Hirst, named after a Yorkshire cricketer, first played by Ralph Richardson. They are both superb. Owen Teale and Damien Molony provide fine support as Briggs and Foster, also named after cricketers.

I thought the personal, first person programme bio’s were a nice touch and gave two of the actors the opportunity to make a point about access to training today by comparing their experience with the more difficult climate today.

It was a privilege to watch such a masterclass in acting, as I continue to warm to Pinter.

 

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Enticed to Pinter again by the cast and director, and leaving the theatre glad I was. Matthew Warchus has done what Jamie Lloyd did with The Hothouse and The Homecoming – less reverence leading to a fresh look at the play. I might actually be in danger of becoming a Pinter fan.

Elder brother Aston, with both a physical and mental handicap, befriends tramp Davies when he is threatened by someone and brings him back to his grubby attic room to stay. When younger brother Mick turns up in Aston’s absence, he intimidates Davies. Mick seems to be in charge of the house, delegating everything to his brother, who offers Davies a job as caretaker, as does Mick a while later. Davies begins to exploit and take advantage of their hospitality, which drives the brothers closer and Davies out. As with all Pinter plays, you’re left to decide what’s really going on here.

I think it’s his most Beckettian play and Warchus has mined it for the black comedy without losing much of the menace. He’s blessed with a stunningly ramshackle claustrophobic design by Rob Howell, with the set brought forward in front of the proscenium to increase the intimacy of this vast theatre, and a superb cast.

It’s wonderful to see Timothy Spall back on stage after all these years and he relishes the part, channelling Only Fools and Horses Uncle Albert in the meeker moments, morphing into a more aggressive, manipulative vagrant as the play progresses. Daniel Mays is cast against type as a restrained, passive Aston and he’s very good. George Maguire is very intimidating, with piercing eyes, strutting around the stage in his tight leather jacket looking superior; another fine performance.

Perhaps it’s Pinter’s death that has liberated or encouraged directors to make fresh interpretations, but I for one welcome them!

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This was trailed as Caryl Churchill’s first full-length play in over 20 years. It isn’t. It’s another obtuse 50 minute miniature. Apart from providing work for four excellent 60/70-something actresses, it’s hard to see what else it contributes. It’s feint praise to say it’s a better than her last ‘miniature’, Here We Go, at the National last year (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2015/12/11/here-we-go-evening-at-the-talk-house).

Mrs Jarrett pops into Sally’s garden when she’s passing. She joins Sally, making inconsequential small-talk with Lena & Vi about the local shops and a whole host of other things; typical old people stuff, looking back (I should know!). We return to the garden with the same four ladies in a row, in chairs, a number of times. In between, Mrs Jarrett appears stage front, framed by red tubes and crackling wire, to tell us about some catastrophes, which become increasingly implausible (and tiresome) as they progress. We learn that Lena has served six years for killing her husband. They sing Da Doo Ron Ron. Sally and Lena each have a bit of a monologue and Mrs Jarrett ends the play with a bit of a rant, repeating the same phrase over and over again – the verbal equivalent of the undressing at the end of Here We Go, but mercifully shorter. 

I’m not entirely sure what Churchill is trying to say; perhaps that we carry on regardless or oblivious of the catastrophes happening around us and / or what it’s like growing old. Playwrights often become minimalist in their later years (Beckett, Pinter…) yet they continue to occupy their place on a pedestal. I sometimes think they have lost their mojo but no-one has the nerve to say so. After 20 years of plays like this I think that’s where I’m at with Caryl Churchill and I think it’s time I gave up hoping for a return to the form that gave us plays like Serious Money.

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