JOHN NATHAN

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - THE­ATRE Pin­ter Five and Six

Harold Pin­ter The­atre

HAROLD PIN­TER wasn’t one to ac­knowl­edge his Jewish roots par­tic­u­larly. Yet here they are in his rarely pro­duced first play The Room (1957) which kicks off the fifth and sixth sec­tions of this starry ret­ro­spec­tive of his short works. Jane Hor­rocks’s Rose Hudd — as twitchy and ner­vous as a wren — is the ten­ant of a shabby post-war room. Ni­cholas Wood­e­son is her age­ing landlord whose mem­ory is so un­re­li­able doubt grows about his true iden­tity.

While Hudd’s hus­band (Ru­pert Graves) lies on the room’s bed — a fig­ure of la­tent, in­ert vi­o­lence—landlord and ten­ant have the kind of con­ver­sa­tion that makes you want to pull your hair out with frus­tra­tion. The ex­changes are full of non se­quiturs, unan­swered ques­tions and sen­tences that end in cul de sacs. In other words, Pin­ter’s ear for the way in which peo­ple talk in real life is fully de­vel­oped. One such sen­tence, ut­tered apro­pos of al­most noth­ing, is when Wood­e­son’s in­creas­ingly misty minded landlord de­clares that his mother was Jewish, prob­a­bly.

But if the Pin­teresque qual­i­ties of lan­guage were fully de­vel­oped by the time the au­thor wrote his first play, it shows that an­other trade­mark el­e­ment of Pin­ter’s had yet to be re­fined — that of male vi­o­lence. It is meted out to a mys­te­ri­ous un­in­vited guest (Colin McFar­lane) far more ex­plic­itly than would have been the case in the later plays. But it didn’t take long for some­thing more sub­tle to emerge. In Pin­ter’s next work The Birth­day Party (1958), the al­most un­bear­able threat is all sug­ges­tion and boot and fist never meets flesh.

Nearly a quar­ter of a cen­tury later Pin­ter re­turned to the ten­e­ment block in Fam­ily Voices (1981). The one act play has a fan­tas­tic cen­tral per­for­mance here by Luke Thal­lon as a young man in an imag­ined ex­change be­tween him and his es­tranged mother (Hor­rocks again). Thal­lon has an Ed­die Red­mayne­like streak of vul­ner­a­bil­ity about him and an un­canny abil­ity to morph into the per­sonas of his fel­low ten­ants while trans­mit­ting his soli­tude.

The two works are sep­a­rated by a darkly comic ex­tended sketch called Vic­to­ria Sta­tion (1982) in which McFar­lane is the con­troller of a mini­cab com­pany and Graves an un­hinged man in some kind of cri­sis who is driv­ing the only cab avail­able for a fare at Vic­to­ria Sta­tion. It is funny but it wouldn’t be Pin­ter if it wasn’t also dis­turb­ing, which it is in spades. Mar­ber di­rects all three with a sure-footed light touch.

I’ve been more down than up about this sea­son, par­tic­u­larly in re­spect of Pin­ter’s po­lit­i­cal works. But this fifth sec­tion re­ally is worth wait­ing for. It is fol­lowed (on sep­a­rate evenings) by Pin­ter Six, di­rected by the sea­son’s artis­tic di­rec­tor Jamie Lloyd, fea­tur­ing two short works sep­a­rated by just over a decade in terms of when they were writ­ten. Each fea­tures peo­ple en­joy­ing a so­cial oc­ca­sion. In Party Time (1991) the ruling classes are quaffing at a soirée while news fil­ters in that on the streets out­side a kind of clam­p­down is tak­ing place on their be­half. It feels like a hor­ri­bly pre­scient fore­cast of a frac­tured so­ci­ety. In Cel­e­bra­tion (2000) mean­while two gang­ster broth­ers and their molls — who are sis­ters — are hav­ing lunch at a posh London restau­rant.

The works are cross cast and ter­rif­i­cally well per­formed, par­tic­u­larly by Celia Im­rie as a heart­less aris­to­crat, John Simm as a psy­chotic “banker” and Ron Cook and Phil Davis as the gobby, vul­gar both­ers. Also out­stand­ing is Tracy-Ann Ober­man as one of the molls, Julie, who trans­mits a sex­u­al­ity from be­neath a break­ing wave of blonde hair that is as al­lur­ing as it is ag­gres­sive.

PHOTO: MARC BREN­NER

The com­pany in Pin­ter Six

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