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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Comedy Theatre

By Matt Wolf

  Richard Coyle, Gina McKee, Charlie Cox and Timothy West(background)

A director is born, if one can be so blunt, with the West End arrival of this pairing of early plays by Harold Pinter, a now-venerated talent here dazzlingly well served by this city's latest offstage wunderkind, Jamie Lloyd. Previously responsible for last year's underheralded revival of Pinter's The Caretaker, Lloyd here moves into the big leagues with a double-bill of The Lover and The Collection that is sexy, funny, and smart. Anyone who thought honoring the master of the pause meant an evening enshrouded in dutiful worship, think again I haven't heard laughs this genuine and bright in many a long winter night.

It says something about the nature of the enterprise that all memory of a previous Donmar doubling a decade ago of these same plays (in that case, with A Kind of Alaska added to the mix) seems unusually to have evaporated, which is just as well since Lloyd and a crackerjack quartet conjure up one image after another sure to linger in the mind. Note, for starters, the conspiratorial smiles that gently illuminate the faces of the couple, married ten years, whom we meet at the start of The Lover: Richard Coyle's city financier, Richard, and his brightly attired, apparently blithely natured wife, Sarah (Gina McKee, in terrific form). The soundscape by Ben and Max Ringham humming with possibility and expectation, the Ringham team's ambient music is in that sparky, sprightly early - sixties mode heard previously at this same theater in Boeing-Boeing. What better aural environment could you want for a play that begins as a caprice - an essay in the games devised between couples to keep their relationship fresh - and deepens into a depiction of a full-throttle breakdown? Not for nothing does The Lover date from the same vintage as Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Both plays show what occurs when the agreed-upon rules of the game are unexpectedly rewritten by one partner or another, Sarah's eleventh-hour hand grenade -Do you think he's the only one that comes? she asks her husband with regard to the lover that her husband has long pretended to be - leaving it tantalizingly up in the air as to whether she is just revising the game as Richard has done with her. Or has Richard/Max's rage toward a spouse who has "[fallen] down on her wifely duties" unleashed a level of attack Sarah didn't know she possessed? Either way, the play is a corker, its superb double-act briefly added to by Charlie Cox's droll turn as a milkman who arrives at an inopportune moment and can't believe that Sarah doesn't want any - ahem - cream.

Cox, the clearly fast-rising star of the recent film Stardust, has more to do in the second play, The Collection, which introduces into the mix the invaluable Timothy West as Harry, the ageing keeper of a young lad (Cox) who may or may not have had an affair with McKee's Stella, wife to Coyle's James. Originally written for television, the play here finds its quartet achieving the theatrical equivalent of cross-cutting on a high-ceiling set by Soutra Gilmour that has been lit with immense suggestiveness by Jon Clark - as if each of these furtive selves were forever being shadowed. The plays, meanwhile, function as delicious puzzling acts in their own right and as portents of the Pinter that, when they were written, was still to come. There's more than a little of The Homecoming's Ruth in Stella's gradual usurpation of the second play, the apparent misogyny of the characters (Harry advises knocking women over the head with a saucepan!) thrown bac


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