Harold Pinter Theatre, London – 8 December 2018
A mournful/despairing tune is playing in the auditorium, probably Radiohead or Thom York. The stage – an almost entirely sideless cube – slowly rotates and the seated Tamsin Greig glides around with it. The audience carries on chatting or studying their phones as is the way – nothing to see here, it hasn’t started so we won’t pay attention.
It feels appropriate given the themes that are to come in this, the third collection of Pinter’s short works in Jamie Lloyd’s Pinter at the Pinter season. When the lights dim and Greig does speak from her seated position it is with the aid of a microphone, her voice soft, Irish accent, her words lyrical. It is a stark contrast to Keith Allen who sits next to her: loud, gruff and matter of fact. No microphone.
They talk but not with each other. There is a hint of past intimacy, a hint of pride, a confession and a sense of loneliness and unfulfillment. Two people who live together but have lost a connection somewhere along the way. A slow cover version of Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ concludes the piece which is titled Landscape.
However, the very style of writing and performance, visual and audio references while serving to emphasise the thematic points of the piece equally serve to isolate any emotional connection. It left me admiring the technicality of the performances and the skill of the writing but it didn’t bring any twinges of empathy, in fact, it left me feeling as cold and unmoved as their relationship.
Landscape is followed by a series of short sketches reflecting on similar themes of love and loneliness with some musing on the nature of stories and recollection, themes which will be taken up more vividly in the second half.
The sketches, like the longer opener, feel more suited to demonstrating technically superb acting. There are some chuckles – a man (Tom Edden) is frustrated by losing an article on spanking and not knowing its conclusion.
However, a scene where Edden, Allen and Lee Evans play old ladies and have a mundane, facial tick-filled conversation about visiting the butchers while tickling many in the audience felt of its time.
It reminded me of the sort of sketch 80s TV comedian Les Dawson would do.
Greig’s teenager is superb
A Kind of Alaska is the longer piece that concludes the collection. Greig plays a girl who’s been asleep for 29 years with Allen as her devoted doctor and Meera Syal her sister.
Greig does a superb job of playing a teenage girl trapped in a woman’s body. Her performance balances that of a girl in the process of leaving childhood behind but not yet mature enough to deal with her sexual awakening while the piece touches on ideas of recollection vs reality.
Need for connection
It was the best of the bunch for me but while it is satisfying to see quality work, it also needs to connect in some way.
Or at least the reason I go to the theatre is to be amused or moved or challenged or interested and sadly this collection of Pinter didn’t really reach out across the dark auditorium to me.
It’s two hours and 15 minutes including an interval and I’m giving it three and a half stars.
It runs in rep with Pinter 4 at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 8 December and my ticket was supplied by SeatPlan.
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