Great act­ing de­voted to Harold

Do­minic Cavendish goes to see Pin­ter Three and Pin­ter Four at the Harold Pin­ter The­atre, Lon­don

The Sunday Telegraph - - Arts -

Ev­ery­where you look at the Harold Pin­ter The­atre, there are pho­tos of the great man, in vary­ing at­ti­tudes of im­pos­ing se­ri­ous­ness. The dis­con­cert­ing im­pres­sion is of be­ing in­side a mau­soleum – and a fur­ther, al­lied im­pres­sion is of the suf­fo­cat­ing po­ten­tial of all that pres­tige. It’s as if the build­ing is reaf­firm­ing the rep­u­ta­tional pressure un­der which Pin­ter sweated.

Jamie Lloyd’s ex­haus­tive sea­son of Pin­ter’s short works is prov­ing ever more fas­ci­nat­ing. In­creas­ingly, it’s as though you’re be­ing ush­ered in­side the many-roomed man­sion of Pin­ter’s mind – it’s all one big opus. The mood might be throw­away comic or pro­tract­edly dark, the writ­ing pin-sharp or off-key, yet the over­hang­ing light-bulb of flick­er­ing doubt is a con­stant: the world out­side is un­re­li­able, and the world within equally so. Grop­ing for words, Pin­ter turned cre­ative iso­la­tion into ex­is­ten­tial state­ment.

Around the time of Land­scape (first staged in 1969), which launches Pin­ter Three, he said: “I found some 1950 po­ems of mine re­cently; I was astonished by the free­dom I had, the en­ergy… I can’t write that way any­more. I’m 37 now. I feel as if I’m 80.” Yet that sense of de­crepi­tude, difficulty and dis­con­nec­tion from one’s younger self im­bues this eerie two-han­der with a nerve-jan­gling vi­tal­ity.

In a coun­try house kitchen, sit­ting in a state of dreamy self-pos­ses­sion, Tamsin Greig plays a woman (Beth) cast­ing her mind back to a hot sum­mer’s day on the sand dunes when she asked the man ly­ing at her side whether he would like a baby. Lloyd has Greig talk into a mi­cro­phone, while near at hand Keith Allen’s gruff, cock­ney Duff (pos­si­bly that man) re­counts ba­nal­i­ties, makes half-over­tures and boils with ex­as­per­a­tion on a lonely hob. It’s as if, with­out mov­ing, they’re locked in a chase – coars­ened, abu­sive mas­culin­ity in pur­suit of a fe­male quarry who moves ever fur­ther into an other-worldly in­te­rior.

Greig is very fine here but ex­cep­tion­ally so in the re­vival that con­cludes the evening. In A Kind of

Alaska (1982) she takes the role of Deborah, who wakes from decades of near-par­a­lytic slumber, no longer a girl but cling­ing to that evap­o­rat­ing girl­hood iden­tity as the re­al­ity dawns. The play was drawn from Oliver Sacks’s 1973 book Awak­en­ings, with its case-stud­ies of pa­tients brought out of the psy­chophys­i­cal hi­ber­na­tion caused by a sleep­ing-sick­ness epi­demic thanks to the drug L-DOPA.

Sit­ting up in bed, Greig is a turn­ing kalei­do­scope of child­like won­der, droll dis­in­hi­bi­tion and scrab­bling panic, watched (with a touch too much clin­i­cal de­tach­ment) by Allen’s doc­tor, with Meera Syal all tacit agony as her sis­ter. “It’s a vast se­ries of halls,” Greig’s revenant ex­plains.

“With enor­mous in­te­rior win­dows mas­querad­ing as walls. The win­dows are mir­rors, you see. And so glass re­flects glass. For ever and ever.” In that ter­ri­fy­ing vi­gnette, you glimpse not just a sin­gu­lar state of mind but a de­scrip­tion of con­scious­ness.

Lee Evans be­stows his hi­lar­i­ous gifts for simian pos­tur­ing, quick gurns and blank looks on a flurry of en­joy­able skits and a haunting piece,

Mono­logue, in which a soli­tary male ad­dresses mock-jaunty re­marks at an empty chair stand­ing in for an ab­sent other, ap­par­ently an old friend-cum-sex­ual ri­val. “I keep busy in the mind, and that’s why I’m still spark­ing,” he jeers, ’twixt ar­ro­gant brag and to­tal break­down.

Pin­ter Four is the weaker of the mixed-bills this month. It con­sists of a re­vival of that pe­cu­liar quasi-deathbed reverie Moon­light (1993) di­rected by Lyn­d­sey Turner, which fea­tures di­a­logue so self-con­scious it al­most sounds like pas­tiche and a cryptic as­pect even the Bletch­ley Park code­break­ers would have been pushed to crack. The Ed Stam­bol­louian-di­rected Night School (1979), about a young fraud­ster newly re­leased from prison, who fix­ates on the young woman who has taken over his bed­room at the in­vi­ta­tion of his aunts, is barely less puz­zling. But it’s equally well served by the ac­tors.

My, how our Bri­tish ac­tors love Pin­ter. That de­vo­tion is some­thing wholly stir­ring and in­spir­ing to wit­ness.

Un­til Dec 8. Tick­ets; 0844 871 7622; pin­ter­atthep­in­

Pin­ter won­der­land: Meera Syal, above, and Lee Evans, be­low, in Pin­ter Three

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