Harold Pinter Theatre – until 26 January 2019
One of the benefits in producing such a wide-ranging festival as Pinter at the Pinter has been the flexibility in its programming, allowing for thematic evenings to emerge as opposed to a straight chronological trip through the canon. So here, Jamie Lloyd is able to bring together two plays set at gatherings, both conveniently cast for nine people.
The first social occasion is the most effective, 1991’s Party Time begins with the sepulchral chords of Handel’s Sarabande in D Minor processed through an electronic filter and its partygoers sat in a line facing the audience. They’re members of a private club and we slowly learn that as they sip champagne, the world outside has gone to shit.
Any overt mention of this is met with a threatening sense of horror, the tears on the face of Eleanor Matsuura’s Dusty as she begs for news of her brother, the trembling hand of Kat Kingsley’s Liz as her husband speaks. It’s thrillingly done even if the ending is ultimately a little overcooked.
By comparison, 2000’s Celebration feels a lot less subtle. Set in an Ivy-ish restaurant, two East End brothers who have married two sisters celebrate a wedding anniversary, a banker and his wife join them, and most everyone turns out to be a piece of gauchely avaricious shit. But where insight shines through Party Time, Celebration’s reliance on stereotypes proves less effective.
There’s some amazing wig work, Celia Imrie and Tracy-Ann Oberman on top honours here, and John Simm is excellent (in both parts actually) but as Pinter’s final play, it really doesn’t feel like his finest. Still, the quality of the cast and direction make it never less than eminently watchable.