Harold Pinter Theatre, London – until 20 October 2018
I found myself enjoying Pinter Two much more than expected and so momentarily forgetting that I’d sworn off the whole thing, I rashly decided to book in for Pinter One, which proves to be an entirely different kind of affair. Not just thematically – it’s an overtly political collection of works and thus considerably darker – but structurally, gathering together no less than nine short pieces, eight of which run together to make the first half.
They’re Press Conference/Precisely/The New World Order/Mountain Language/American Football/The Pres and an Officer/Death/One for the Road (all directed by Jamie Lloyd) with Ashes to Ashes (directed by the Lia Williams) following after the interval. And so ultimately it feels a bit more like a showcase of Pinter which brings with it some challenges, alongside the interest value in unearthing some lesser-seen works, including a world premiere.
That premiere – The Pres And An Officer – manages the not-unimpressive feat of fully justifying its Trump-a-like as Pinter’s prescience in nailing the vicissitudes of a numbnuts US president is uncanny. Played by a roll-call of guest stars (I saw Jon Culshaw), its a welcome burst of comedy in an otherwise dark affair and you have to laugh, because otherwise you’d cry.
Elsewhere Paapa Essiedu and Antony Sher are grippingly intense in the exquisite torture of One For The Road, and Kate O’Flynn and Maggie Steed are pointedly excellent as a pair of bull-shitting men. And what you get here that you don’t in Pinter 2 is a real sense of how imaginatively flexible Soutra Gilmour’s revolving cube design is as it reconfigures at every available opportunity.
Post-interval, O’Flynn and Essiedu tackle 1996’s Ashes to Ashes, a more typically cryptic work where a couple are talking and yet their meaning is slippery and vague and disturbing and unmissable. Both actors deliver their ‘conversation’ with the utmost conviction, its impossible to drag your eyes from them even as we get darker and more violent and stranger. It’s hard work, as is the whole thing, but worth it for its sheer quality.