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Posts Tagged ‘Keith Allen’

I gave up on Pinter some time ago. I put him with my other problem playwrights, Shaw (verbose) and Chekov (watching paint dry). Then this company lured me back to see The Hothouse because of the cast and creative team and I liked it. Now they’ve lured me back to this 50th anniversary production for the same reasons. What dawned on me last night was that it was the overly reverential, earnest, dull, humourless productions that had put me off. I enjoyed this one too. I think I’m beginning to enjoy the ambiguity.

Widowed Max, his two youngest sons Lenny and Joey, and brother Sam live together in a big house. Max was a butcher, Sam now a chauffer, Joey a demolition man and sometime boxer and Lenny some sort of pimp. They are nasty to one another, especially Max to the rest. Older brother Teddy returns home from the US. He’s a philosophy professor, married with two boys. His wife Ruth, who his family never knew about let alone met, accompanies him. They all continue to be nasty to one another, deeply misogynistic and thoroughly unpleasant. It’s the subtext what counts, and that’s where the ambiguity come in.

Soutra Gilmour’s set is derivative of Francis Bacon with a red metal frame and floor, a few items of furniture and a door and stairs which lead upstairs and downstairs. There’s a brooding soundtrack and dramatic lighting. Jamie Lloyd’s production is both menacing and humorous, and strikingly different to vanilla Pinter productions.

Ron Cook is outstanding as Max, a seemingly loveless monster dad, with hints of a paedophile past. Keith Allen camps up Sam, in keeping with the suggestion that he’s gay (at a time when it was still illegal). John Macmillan is brilliantly dumb as Joey. Gary Kemp plays Teddy as a gentle soul who takes the knocks from the family, but is a possessive, even dominant, husband. I was disappointed by the indisposition of John Simm but hugely impressed by his understudy John Hastings as Lenny. Gemma Chan’s TV role as an android in Humans has prepared her well for the ice cool Ruth; another impressive performance.

There were fascinating and insightful questions and comments from audience members at the post-show Q&A which added much value to the evening. After two rewarding Pinter’s, I think Jamie Lloyd may well have changed my mind about him.

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This is a new version of a 10-year-old Richard (one-man-two-guvnors) Bean play first set in Newcastle, now relocated to Kingston and jam-packed with local references (the detail of many was lost on me, someone who lives a whole nine miles away, though you do get the gist). It’s a black comedy about a drug dealing family.

Gavin & Catherine Robinson are children of the 60’s who have since been Kingston main dealers. Son Robert is a few grams short of a wrap but big enough and thick enough to be their enforcer. Other son Sean is in the process of taking over the business and taking it down a much darker street occupied by Russians and the like. Daughter Cora seems to be the white black sheep, more keen on her studies than boys, booze & drugs, much to her mother’s disdain. As the play starts, Robert’s junkie wife has died.

Bean really knows how to write cracking comic lines and it’s packed full of them. The populist local references are clever but come a touch close to overuse and in danger of being too contrived. The dark aspects of their trade – addiction, violence and death – didn’t sit entirely comfortably inside the comedy for me, but I suppose that’s the point of a black comedy. They’re loveable rogues who kill people!

Keith Allen & Denise Welch are very good as the parents, but the real acting honours belong to Matthew Wilson, whose Robert is a superb characterisation, and Harry Melling, who walks a fine line brilliantly between heartless bully and mummy’s boy. Kate Lamb has a real transition to make as Cora and pulls it off well. Richard Wilson’s staging loses pace occasionally, but is otherwise excellent. James Cotterill’s design captures the world of criminal middle class snobs really well and fits the difficult Rose stage better than any other in my experience.

This isn’t vintage Bean, but its a lot of fun and well worth the (9 mile!) trip.

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