Harold Pinter Theatre
The first two collections of Pinter’s one act plays will be coming to an end next Saturday 20 October, but there are five more to come, taking the season through into mid February 2019.
Overall it is the scale and ingenuity of putting on a whole season of Pinter’s short one act plays which is most exciting and impressive. The cast list reads like something of a who’s who of acting. Some names will undoubtedly create buzz and sell tickets, although given the nature of Pinter’s characters it feels like there are going to be many opportunities to see some meaty performances from the whole cast. So whether you want to see Martin Freeman, Celia Imrie, Danny Dyer or Tamsin Greig, or a chance to see some rarely performed (or in the case of The Pres and an Officer, never performed) works by Pinter, there is probably something for everyone.
That said Pinter can be dark. Very dark. Pinter One opens with a barnstorming speech from a politician standing at a podium, complete with patriotic music and red, white and blue confetti cascading down into the stalls. (Amusingly this play opened during conference season). The speech quickly becomes menacing, and you fall very fast into a succession of plays that create a nightmare totalitarian state of violence, suppression and intimidation. What is ingenious about the structure of Pinter One is that whilst there is a feeling of a narrative arc, they were in fact written at completely different times, from the 1980s into the 2000s. To start this Pinter season with such dark and menacing stories clearly chimes with our age, and is a bold statement of intent for the whole season.
Pinter Two comprises of two plays looking at relationships and infidelity: The Lover and The Collection – themes Pinter returns to in perhaps my favourite play of his, Betrayal. Both the plays here were written in the early 1960s, and yet seem fresh and modern, with sharp observations on how couples do or don’t succeed in living and loving. And whilst Pinter Two is decidedly lighter and a less depressing look at our society than Pinter One, we have now new lenses with which to view these works: #metoo and #timesup make us reflect and question these works afresh.
Perhaps then it is only natural that when we find the laughs, we laugh harder and more raucously. Jon Culshaw plays an idiot president, dressed of course in a blonde wig, orange makeup and red tie, who accidentally nukes London. David Suchet hilariously camps it up in a silk dressing gown and withering looks worthy of Kenneth Williams at a beefy underwear clad Russell Tovey. Pinter gives us comedy – usually black comedy or satire – through an insightful observation of the follies of human nature and how we interact with one another.
Whether all of these shorts will stand up to our current time or not is almost not the point. Like the recent successful TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has demonstrated, we need writers, artists and directors to constantly be questioning and challenging the world around us, showing us how fragile our freedoms are, or making us see how ridiculous we can be to one another. It isn’t always comfortable for us sitting in the audience in the dark, but I for one will there for as many of them as I can.
Pinter One Tuesday 25th September (Stalls Q15); Pinter Two – Saturday 13th October (Stalls P13)