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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Harold Pinter Theatre


  Luke Thallon and Jane Horrocks/ Ph: Marc Brenner

I have often been down about this great – but not always good – and starry season of Harold Pinter’s shorter works, compiled by director Jamie Lloyd and presented at the West End theatre formerly known as The Comedy. Not that the idea of a season staging Pinter’s lesser-known shorter works isn’t a really good one, in theory. But in practise this has meant sitting through a lot of uneven, often dates piece that, it turns out, were neglected for good reason.

This applies to the late, political Pinters especially. One for the Road, in which Antony Sher played a state torturer with tormented and tormenting menace, was no doubt as harrowing as Pinter meant it to be. But it was unremittingly bleak. And as an exercise in relating the horrors, the play is very sub Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden. Even his better-known works such as A Kind of Alaska, inspired by neurologist Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, is little more than an exercise in horror, and builds a sense that the season is based on the misconceived premise that if Pinter wrote it, it must be good.

But this fifth section directed by Patrick Marber amounts to a fascinating insight into Pinter’s development as a writer and also some of his preoccupations. It pairs his first play The Room (1957) with a much later work, Family Voices (1981). Both are set in tenement blocks, and each conveys a vulnerability that goes with being a tenant.

The first of these sees Pinter experimenting with such dramatic forces as male violence, the uninvited visitor and most of all the eerie surreality of what would become knows as Pinteresque dialogue. The exchange between Jane Horrocks’ Rose Hudd and her ageing landlord played by Nicholas Kidd is perhaps the best example of this. It is brimful of non-sequiturs, unanswered questions and dead-end sentences. Or put another way, it is very like the way people actually speak to each other. For much of the play, Mrs Hudd’s husband (Rupert Graves) lies sleeping on the room’s bed, a figure of latent violence whose potential is fully realised when he attacks a mysterious blind man (Colin McFarlane) who has a message for Rose. 

Horrocks is in fine form as the jittery tenant. But the performance of the evening is delivered by Luke Thallon. In these cross-cast productions he’s a threatening visitor in The Room, even pouring doubt on whether the old man Rose has been talking to is actually her landlord after all. But it is in Family Voices where he really excels, playing a young man living in a house of multiple occupants. The dialogue is an imagined exchange with his estranged mother (Horrocks again), and with mercurial ease Thallon inhabits the threatening, lonely and seductive personas of the house. Yet there’s always a fragility about him, a vulnerability I haven’t seen on stage since Eddie Redmayne made his debut in Albee’s Who Is Sylvia?

Between these works there is a diverting little sketch in which McFarlane plays the West Indian controller of a minicab company. Graves is his oddly unresponsive driver. It’s an amusing interlude, and it wouldn't be Pinter if it were not disturbing too, which it is. But it is the other two that give a sense of some of the Nobel Laureate’s preoccupations and his development as a writer. The first one is especially impressive. I like to think that if I had seen it when it was written I'd have said this new writer will go far.


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