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Review of Pinter Five and Pinter Six at the Harold Pinter Theatre
to January 25 at the Harold Pinter Theatre, Panton Street, London WC2
Reviewed by Jarlath O'Connell
Jamie Lloyd’s wonderfully curated season of all the shorter works of Harold Pinter continues with more starry casts and the acclaimed playwright Patrick Marber coming on board to direct No. Five.
It brings together the sinister and compelling The Room (1957), which he wrote for Bristol University Drama Society and which became his early calling card, with Family Voices(1981) which he first wrote for BBC Radio. The Room displays so many of the themes and obsessions he would later return to. It’s like a Pinter Primer.
Both deal with reclusive, insular, people who struggle the demands of family. Hell is other people. Jane Horrocks is perfectly cast as Rose, a tight coil of anxiety, serving her thuggish husband Bert (a mostly silent Rupert Graves). They live in a grim bedsitter and her anxieties range from the cold to descending to the basement to having any contact with the outside world. Despite her best efforts that world intrudes in the form of a lost couple she encounters on the stairwell, the equally fretful landlord Mr Kidd (Nicholas Woodeson), and finally the appearance of a large, shuffling, figure, Riley, (Colin McFarlane). Being both black and blind he unleashes a vitriolic streak of racism and xenophobia in her. She’s like a viper cornered. Horrocks is expert at delineating the very fine line between the sheer darkness of this piece and its frequent strands of humour, never being tempted by trying for a cheap laugh. Marber, who does a great job of ratcheting up the fear, also underlines the piece’s oddly Christian theme. Is Riley a saviour she can surrender to?
Family Voices has the utterly engaging Luke Thallon as a son, away from home for the first time and living in a grim boarding house, where he vividly impersonates the various characters who also inhabit it, in his letters back home. Jane Horrocks is his fretful Mother and by the end he’s reassuring her that he’ll return. Again, more paralysing fear at the appalling strangeness of the world.
In between, providing some light relief, is a sketch from 1982, Victoria Station. McFarlane this time plays a mini cab despatcher who gets increasingly frustrated trying to communicate with a mysterious, dopey, driver (Rupert Graves).
Six, which is directed by Lloyd himself, matches two one-acters which perfectly complement each other. Both concern themselves in different ways with the disconnection of an elite, be they political or financial and their self-justifying smugness. What could be more apt in the era of “gilets jaunes”?
In Party Time (1981) we’re at rather stiff cocktail party where everyone is in their finest black attire and the small talk concerns the opening of a chic new health club by Terry (John Simm) which he is promoting to his fellow plutocrat Gavin (Phil Davis).
These Alpha Males move in separate spheres and are orbited by supplicant wives and lovers whom they curtly dismiss with the most withering contempt. Their annoyance when the women bring up inappropriate topics is perfectly etched by Pinter. Guests for the party have, it seems, experienced traffic delays on the way because dissidents were being rounded up. Gavin the menacing authority figure apologises and provides the necessary reassurance that “normal service will be resumed”. It’s a gobsmacking fusion of the trivial with the utterly scarifying. A mini masterpiece.
Celebration (2000) has the same cast, this time in a posh restaurant, but in a much more jolly affair. This ‘elite’ group may have tons of money but in their drunken revelries, they have no concerns about fitting in. Their foul mouthed Cockney badinage is hilarious. Curiously, they are also appreciative and much kinder to the staff.
Designer Soutra Gilmour has great fun with a feast of high wigs, short skirts and enough gold lamé to make the cast of The Only Way is Essex blush.
Lambert (Ron Cook) is celebrating his wedding anniversary to Julie (Tracy-Ann Oberman) who has her beloved sister Prue (Celia Imrie) in tow, accompanied by her husband, Matt (Phil Davis), another self-made geezer. Eventually Lambert draws another couple into the circle as he spots an old conquest of his, Suki (Katherine Kingsley). She’s accompanied by Russell (John Simm), her slimy banker husband. Kingsley utterly shines as the statuesque, killer-blonde, ex-secretary who is more than a match for anyone.
Class raises its ugly head in the form of the unctuous waiting staff who reassure everyone that they “serve people from all walks of life” and the outside world impinges a little in the form of a verbose waiter (Abraham Popoola). Happily this party couldn’t care less about his attempts to draw them out of themselves.
A previous TV version, also starry, drew more on the darkness underneath the vulgar bonhomie and it paid dividends. Here, Lloyd stages it more for laughs and the result is rather overcooked. The decision to pair it with Party Time was inspired though.
Five and Six run until 26 January and Pinter at the Pinter continues until February 23.