Party Time/cel­e­bra­tion Harold Pin­ter The­atre, London, un­til Jan­uary 26

The New European - - Eurofile | Theatre - STAGE RE­VIEW BY TIM WALKER

It is hard as a the­atre critic not to take al­most as much plea­sure in the ha­treds as the en­thu­si­asms. Over two decades of re­view­ing, I have sel­dom, if ever, had a good word to say about Harold Pin­ter. His work al­ways seemed to me to be too ni­hilis­tic and bleak, with lit­tle thought ap­par­ently given to his plays’ con­struc­tion and of­ten no sense what­so­ever of plot. A lot of the un­der­ly­ing at­ti­tudes – not least the misog­yny – I found re­pel­lent. I also re­sented pay­ing good money to lis­ten to those fa­mous long si­lences of his.

I star­tle my­self there­fore to ad­mit that I en­joyed Party Time and Cel­e­bra­tion, the dou­ble bill of plays that mark the lat­est in­stal­ment in the Pin­ter sea­son at the the­atre that bears his name. Of course a lot of it comes down to the act­ing: how could you go wrong with an en­sem­ble that in­cludes Phil Davis, Celia Im­rie and Ron Cook?

They ap­pear in both of the two short plays di­rected by Jamie Lloyd that run to about half an hour each. The sec­ond work – Pin­ter’s fi­nal play – feels very much like an ex­ten­sion of the first, only the char­ac­ters are at a proper sit-down din­ner at a fancy restau­rant, whereas in the first they are at a pre­ten­tious cock­tail party.

There is a sense of un­ease at both oc­ca­sions. Cook is su­perb in the first as a self-made and self-im­por­tant man, who, when told by his host (Davis) that he ad­mires peo­ple like him, replies “so do I”, and laughs smugly at his own joke. He has his own is­land, and hints that he has some in­volve­ment in govern­ment when he talks obliquely about the need for a “cast-iron peace”.

Im­rie is, mean­while, a de­light as posh old broad bang­ing on about the peo­ple she knew from her ten­nis club who are now largely dead, but she is not that both­ered as she never liked them.

As these snip­pets of con­ver­sa­tions go on, there is in their midst an in­creas­ingly des­per­ate char­ac­ter called Dusty

(Eleanor Mat­suura), who fears for the safety of her brother, Jimmy. He even­tu­ally ap­pears at the end, blood­ied and beaten and played with a great sense of de­spair by Abra­ham Popoola.

Cel­e­bra­tion is a more overtly funny work, largely dom­i­nated by Im­rie, play­ing this time a won­der­fully brassy lady with big hair, and Popoola, who is hi­lar­i­ous as a waiter given to in­ter­rupt­ing the fatu­ous con­ver­sa­tion with long lists of fa­mous peo­ple his grand­fa­ther hap­pened to know.

I’ve no idea what it all means, but it does seem to me that Pin­ter plays are rather like good jokes. They are all in the telling. I’ve seen some great ac­tors try­ing to make them work over the years and fail­ing, but Lloyd and his cast have, by some strange alchemy, man­aged to make these two work. Even if – like me – you are no great fan of Pin­ter, give this dou­ble bill a chance.

It does us all good to have a prej­u­dice chal­lenged ev­ery once in a while.

Photo: Marc Bren­ner

STRANGE ALCHEMY: The en­sem­ble in Cel­e­bra­tion

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