No Pinters come along for ages, then, just like buses, seven of them all arrive at once. Well not quite at once; between September just gone and next February. And where better for them to turn up than at the Comedy, I mean Harold Pinter Theatre? I guess after this intensive season of mini-Pinter plays I’ll have to start calling it by its new name. Then some other great dramatic hero will die and we’ll have to rename some other fine theatre, eradicating its history in one fell swoop. Ah well… Mrs Chrisparkle said I woke up grumpy today…. Perhaps she’s right.
As soon as I saw this season of Pinter short plays was on the horizon, I booked for them straight away. This is a great opportunity to see some much less well known and rarely performed pieces; and who know when that chance will come round again? Alas, prior commitments mean I can’t see how we can squeeze in Pinters Three and Four, but we caught Pinters One and Two on their last day on Saturday and have Five, Six and Seven to look forward to in 2019. Imaginative titles, no?
They are least practical titles. Pinter Two, which we, perversely, saw first, consisted of two one-act plays I’ve known since my teenager years, The Lover, and The Collection, both of which were, handily, published together in an Eyre Methuen paperback in the 1960s. The first half of the production was The Lover, Pinter’s 1962 quirky and ironic look at marital fidelity and the games people play within marriage. Richard and Sarah are upbeat about her regular afternoon visits from her lover, but after a while Richard begins to get fed up and hurt about it, and wants to bring the dalliance to an end. However, the lover, Max, also appears to be… Richard. One actor playing two characters? One character with a touch of Jekyll and Hyde? A sexual fantasy for both of them to keep their relationship hot? Or simply delusional fantasy on Sarah’s part? You choose. There are no right and wrong answers.
Jamie Lloyd directs it at a smart pace, with the characters trapped within the featureless, claustrophobic and above all, pink (for romance?) room designed by Soutra Gilmour. John Macmillan – who also appeared in Jamie Lloyd’s production of The Homecoming a few years ago – and Hayley Squires mined all the laughs there are out of this weird situation; I found Mr Macmillan also rather disturbing as Max. And this must be the briefest appearance on stage ever in Russell Tovey’s career as John the milkman, proffering Sarah his cream at the front door. It’s a clever play, brightly done; but in comparison with everything else we saw that day, feels very slight and insubstantial.
After the interval we returned for The Collection, first produced in 1961. I remember seeing an amateur production of this in my early teens and I am convinced they managed to perform it without a hint of reference to homosexuality. Either they didn’t understand it; or, more probably, I didn’t. Anyway, there’s no escaping the homosexual overtones in this superb little production, again directed by Jamie Lloyd. Russell Tovey’s Jack-the-Lad Bill lives with David Suchet’s quietly flamboyant Harry, and is disturbed by an accusation from John Macmillan’s James that, whilst in Leeds showing his latest dress collection (he’s a designer) Bill slept with James’ wife Stella (Hayley Squires, and also a dress designer). When Bill denies it, saying he’s not that kind of boy, we believe him. But James doesn’t. Instead, James decides to spend a little more time with Bill to find out a bit more about him…. curious. Did Bill and Stella sleep together? Will Stella and James’ relationship ever be the same again? Will Harry and Bill’s? It’s Pinter, so don’t expect any answers.
It’s a cracking little play, and once again Lloyd and Pinter draw out both the comedy and the menace that lurks underneath. We’re treated to a mini-masterclass from David Suchet, languorously putting up with the “slum slug” Bill for, one presumes, one reason only; affectedly expecting everything to be done for him, mischievously stirring up trouble wherever he can. And Russell Tovey, too, gives a great performance, channelling his inner Ricky Gervais with wide-boy cheek mixed with just a little frosty petulance. John Macmillan gives a deliberately unemotional and rigid performance as the bully who might have got entangled just a bit too far for his own comfort; and it’s left to Hayley Squires to convince us of the truth or otherwise of her story.
Production photos by Marc Brenner