THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
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Pinter at the Pinter Season review:
Pinter Three and Pinter Four
to December 8 at the Harold Pinter Theatre, Panton Street, London WC2
Reviewed by Jarlath O'Connell
Jamie Lloyd's brilliant 6 month season of all of Pinter's shorts continues at the Harold Pinter Theatre with the 3rd and 4th instalments.
One featured some of his most chilling and overtly political works, Two were 'Comedies of Manners' bringing some welcome light relief and now Three and Four reveal other totally different shades of him.
Three shows his debt to Beckett and Four displays his gift for comedy in pieces which you'd think came from the pen of Monty Python or Father Ted. Pinter broke new ground in his plays and this season demonstrates just how much an influence he has been on all that came after.
The casting throughout this season has been ace. Tamsin Greig displays her great range here in Landscape where, seated and speaking into a stand mic she portrays a woman, with an Irish lilt, totally lost in past romances and inhabiting a different universe from her pugilistic husband (Keith Allen). He perfectly calibrates his rising frustration at not connecting with her. It's effectively two interweaving monologues: two people in separate lands.
Grieg is back in A Kind of Alaska, which was inspired by the work of Oliver Sacks of Awakenings fame. She's wonderfully heartfelt as a woman woken up from a coma after 29 years. She retains the mind of a teenager but now in a woman's body. Grieg never sentimentalises her and, interestingly, Pinter focuses as much on the havoc caused to her ever patient sister (Meera Syal) and devoted doctor (Allen again) as on her. It cries out to be expanded however.
The other big star casting is Lee Evans. Pinter, like Beckett, saw that underneath every great clown lies an accomplished actor and, suitably reined in here, Evans is riveting. Monologue is a rather mournful piece where he plays a troubled loner addressing an empty chair and feeding off an imagined past.
The comic highlights of Three however come in the sketches, most from 1959. That's All has Allen, Evans and Tom Edden as three old dears spouting nonsense and Evans, whose limbs seem to exist in another dimension, is side-splittingly funny in a performance that resembles one of Les Dawson's 'old bags', gossiping over the garden fence.
Edden, who wowed everyone in One Man Two Governors, brings his gift for sublime physical comedy to Girls (1995), as a gawky don pondering the various permutations of an inappropriate letter handed to an academic colleague by a female pupil. He and Evans return in That's Your Trouble about a northern factory owner facing a revolt by his workers. It's pure Monty Python, yet it predates them by 10 years.
Four comprises just Moonlight and Night School. At its first outing in 1993 Moonlight was rather sombre affair but here director Ed Stambollounian gives it a jaunty air. Robert Glenister is wittily dyspeptic as a retired civil servant being attended on his deathbed by his steely wife (Brid Brennan, perfectly semi-detached). He goads her about their relations with another couple and rails against their two estranged sons. Dwayne Wallcott and Al Weaver, as the boys, bring a vivid energy to their roles and wallow in the linguistic contortions but their world is superimposed over the parents' one and this rather grates against the naturalistic style of the former.
Weaver's comic finesse (he's perfect for Pinter), is greatly deployed too in the second piece Night School (1979). He's a Cockney petty thief just out of the nick who has returned home to his aunties only to discover they've let out his room in his absence. It's let to a mysterious young girl (Jessica Barden) who it turns out is living a double life. A school teacher by day, to placate the public morality of her landladies, and a nightclub hostess by night.
Janie Dee and Brid Brennan joyfully spin comic gold as the two busy bodies, dressed in their pinnies and curlers, dispensing tea and custard tarts to keep in with the local hood Solto (Robert Glenister). It's a masterpiece of comic writing which evokes the sordid smoky East End of the Kray Twins.