Pinter Three and Four at the Harold Pinter Theatre
Jamie Lloyd and Soutra Gilmour unite once again to give us a thrilling series of short plays of wit, wisdom, comedy and with a dreamlike narrative by Harold Pinter, which linger long after the pieces end. From the beginning of Pinter Three, a running theme with the preceding shows presents itself as a critique of gendered othering that naturally renders communication invalid. Tamsin Grieg sits facing the microphone in Landscape with her back to her partner (Keith Allen), recounting a memory of a time at the beach where he slept through her modest urge to be touched and ultimately to have a baby with him. However, despite the microphone and the fact that she is not looking at him, the balance of power continues to shift away from her as Allen screams at her indifferent, indeed unhearing, form before him.
That their separate conversations flow in the natural structure of speech – one character speaks and pauses, the other speaks and pauses, and so on – does not in fact qualify in terms of value as they are not consciously addressing the other but rather speaking at and, in the case of Grieg, for them.
This inability to communicate is highlighted in Lee Evans’s Monologue, in a conversation with an empty chair over which he has carefully placed his blazer, claiming that this kind of dialogue is what he really likes, while he laments his black beloved whom the non-existent other has taken from him. This theme of the dysfunctions of communication brings to mind Pinter’s activism against a political construct that has failed to hear the people, a globalised system that has failed to hear the world, and a social one that has failed to understand half its human population.
Pinter’s popularity with the British stars is evident, with an excellent range of talent and prestige at the performances attracting an eclectic crowd. The comedic elements are well received by the audience, especially in Girls and That’s Your Trouble with Evans and Tom Edden. Meera Syal’s soothing and harmonious singing benefits the slow-paced feeling of the afternoon with its dim lights and gentle humour while the rain thunders audibly outside.
Pinter Four, directed by Lyndsey Turner, opens with Andy (Robert Glenister) in Moonlight, a proud, brash ex-civil servant, who is bemoaning his imminent death as he demands that his wife call his sons and grandchildren to visit. Despite the themes of death and abandonment, Glenister’s humour frequently causes a fit of laughter across the theatre while the indifference of his wife (Brid Brennan) echoes the afternoon’s plays.
The sons’ (Dwane Walcott and Al Weaver) refusal to see their dying father casts a sombre mood to the piece that is to be echoed in the melancholic ghost of the daughter (Isis Hainsworth). However, Hainsworth’s flitting in and out adds a disjointed, almost incoherent element to the play that emphasises the dysfunctional state of the family, and though Walcott and Weaver are charming on stage, the derisive back-talk can be laborious at times.
Night School, the second play of the evening’s shows, continues this theme of failed communication – whether mis-hearing or unhearing as occurred in Pinter Three, or the cavernous, incommunicable hostility of Moonlight – by addressing issues of deceit and misconstrued identities. The most appealing aspect of the façade is that nobody comes out on top – whether it is Walter (Weaver) pretending to be a big-time villain, mysterious and sultry Sally (Jessica Barden), who claims to go to a night school to learn a foreign language while working as a prostitute, or Solto (Glenister), who pretends to be poor in order to evade tax payment. None of them are better than the other and there is no didacticism in Pinter’s exquisite characterisation, which is refreshing on its own.
Abbie Finn’s impeccable drumming is vivifying as Barden dances sensually in the club, and her squabble with Brennan over the appropriate temperature for bedtime milk is humorous, adding variety to an otherwise dark tone. Weaver’s attempts to woo Barden also add humour and lightness to the general theme.
Photo: Marc Brenner
Pinter Three and Four is at the Harold Pinter Theatre from 25th October until 8th December 2018. Book your tickets for Pinter Three here.