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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Harold Pinter Theatre


  Ph: Marc Brenner

The increasing number of sections of this season of Harold Pinter’s short and often overlooked works is a mixed bag of the dated, amusing and horrific, but only very occasionally the revelatory.

The last category on that list can be reasonably applied to section five’s rarely seen The Room (1957). Pinter’s first play, it provides insights into the developing themes in his better-known second work The Birthday Party (1958, and not in this season) – for instance, the mysterious uninvited guest and the violence of men. But perhaps most tellingly of all, it shows Pinter capturing the surreality of the way people talk in reality.

In the Pinter Six section, however, which is performed in repertoire with section five, what stands out is the way in which events in today’s Britain have dragged what might have been a dated piece into modern relevance. And yes, it is Brexit that has done it.

Party Time (1991), which director Jamie Lloyd has here cross-cast and paired with Celebration, a later work (2000), reveals Pinter’s catastrophist heart. The setting is a posh party whose host Gavin (Phil Davis) is the object of sycophantic admiration from his guests (played by such stage A-listers as Celia Imrie, Ron Cook, John Simm and Tracy-Ann Oberman).

This is a lineup of grotesques drawn by Pinter with considerable contempt. Women are the chattel of their men. Meanwhile the chat – about a new member’s club that the host is encouraged to join – reveals elitism displayed as a badge of honour. But what turns the play into something more sinister is the news that filters in about trouble out on the streets below.

The host apologizes for the inconvenience his guests must have encountered on their way to the party. But he assures everyone that there is currently a clampdown taking place that is going to make life much easier for the likes of them. These people are not just snobs. They are from the ruling class of what is clearly a deeply divided nation. Whether in today’s context the people on the streets or those quaffing wine belong to what is known on these shores as Brexiteers or Remainers will probably depend on which group ends up being the establishment. But the depth of the division is Pinter’s point, even though he would have had no conception of how relevant the play would feel 27 years after he wrote it. But then politics does that to plays if they are good enough. And this one is.

Celebration, which unhappily is Pinter’s final play, is the more light and trite of the two. Two cockney gangsters, Lambert and Matt (Cook and Davis), brothers, are having lunch with their wives Julie and Prue (Oberman and Imrie), sisters. They are in the poshest possible London restaurant. As with Party Time, the piece is terrifically and entertainingly performed, especially by Oberman, who conveys the hard-nosed, bosomy allure of a gangster’s moll.

In both pieces, Abraham Popoola is a kind of reality-check outsider to main groups. In Celebration he is a disruptive waiter, and in Party Time a bloodied victim of the roundup his guests would much rather not see.

Each is a scathingly contemptuous view of either the ruling or the nouveau riche working classes, whose vulgarity says as much about Pinter’s snobbery as it does the people he is depicting.


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