CON­FES­SION OF A THE­ATRE CRITIC The Lover/the Col­lec­tion

Harold Pin­ter The­atre, Lon­don, un­til Oc­to­ber 20

The New European - - Eurofile Theatre -

When it comes to Harold Pin­ter, I feel we crit­ics are party to a con­spir­acy against the the­atre-go­ing pub­lic. At some point, one of our num­ber – pos­si­bly ine­bri­ated – must have knocked off a re­view say­ing that there is some point to this man’s plays, that there is more to them than there seems, and that they are, by im­pli­ca­tion, en­ter­tain­ing.

A prece­dent was set, and, over the years, I sup­pose it must sim­ply have be­come very dif­fi­cult to chal­lenge it. As a con­se­quence, Pin­ter is what a cer­tain kind of the­atre-goer – masochis­tic, cer­tainly not some­one who goes to watch a play ex­pect­ing to en­joy it, who ac­tu­ally re­gards it as some­thing of a chore – re­gards as a Se­ri­ous Play­wright.

Death has now si­lenced Pin­ter for a decade – even by his stan­dards, a record­break­ing pause – and the di­rec­tor Jamie Lloyd is mark­ing the an­niver­sary with a six-month sea­son of his work at the the­atre that bears his name. He has kicked it off with a dou­ble-bill of two short early 1960s Pin­ters, The Lover and The Col­lec­tion, which Lloyd di­rects him­self.

The for­mer is what must at the time it was first per­formed have been seen as a dar­ing piece about a cou­ple named Richard and Sarah, who, in the open­ing mo­ments, ap­pear to be pro­to­type swingers. Richard, head­ing off to work, ca­su­ally asks his wife if her lover will be vis­it­ing in his ab­sence. He will, she an­swers, shame­lessly. It soon emerges that Richard often doesn’t go to work, but goes in­stead to the res­i­dence of a woman he calls his “whore”.

Only it all turns out to be no more than role-play­ing and nei­ther re­ally has any­one else in their lives and this is just a way to ease the monotony of a mar­riage that’s clearly turned stale. John Macmil­lan and Hay­ley Squires play the cou­ple very adroitly – I loved the man­nered voices and move­ments – but, for all that, it is hard not to get a sense of a rather fee­ble joke stretched to the ab­so­lute limit and be­yond.

The Col­lec­tion is an­other ex­am­i­na­tion of hu­man re­la­tion­ships, some­thing

Pin­ter him­self was not al­ways bril­liant at in his own life, but would often draw upon as source ma­te­rial. Macmil­lan this time plays James, a mar­ried man who tracks down Bill (a gym-fit Rus­sell

Tovey), whom he sus­pects of hav­ing had a fling with this wife Stella (Squires, again). The scene stealer in this piece – and, for my money, the best thing about this en­tire pre­pos­ter­ous dou­ble bill – is David Suchet, who plays Harry, with whom Bill lodges, as a de­li­ciously camp old man in a wig (which he ca­su­ally dis­penses with in the play’s fi­nal mo­ments). I don’t know what it is about Suchet, but I could find him com­pelling de­claim­ing large chunks of the Lon­don tele­phone di­rec­tory. In­deed, he could find a belly laugh in a funeral eu­logy.

It all amounts, of course, to no more than a hill of beans, but the ac­tors do clearly have a lot of fun. Pin­ter him­self started off as an ac­tor and I get the im­pres­sion he wrote very much for ac­tors rather than au­di­ences, which is fine, but it means that there is never go­ing to be a lot in it for thee and me.

Photo: Marc Bren­ner

DE­LI­CIOUSLY CAMP: David Suchet in Harold Pin­ter’s The Col­lec­tion

STAGE RE­VIEW BY TIM WALKER

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