Harold Pinter Theatre, London – until 20 October 2018
Guest reviewer: Ben Blackmore
Pinter 2 announces itself in bold, Sex And The City-type projections, in the Sex And The City font as though it were the sequel. The late summer blockbuster you never knew you wanted.
A comedy from Pinter usually gets treated one of two ways: irony-steeped laughfest or anxiety-inducing fake-comedy, and tonight’s plays go both ways – in more ways than one. The curtain opens first onto The Lover, and one of the gaudiest sets I can remember, in pupil-dilating Technicolor. Adorned in kitschy 50s cribbing, everything is either baby pink or radioactive green: a Mr Blobby interior. If it wasn’t for the unsettling restraint shown in the Stepford kitchenette, the whole thing would look as though it were staged on a Teletubby’s tummy.
Richard and Sarah are a married couple, who each speak candidly of having a lover. The not-so-shocking reveal, which comes early on, is the identity of the lovers. Yes, they’re… Richard and Sarah, navigating a delicate, double-dealing game of role play. John Macmillan and Hayley Squires cope well with the relative paucity of material they’ve got to work with. As if they were melting waxwork figures at Madame Tussauds, their pathos plays out almost entirely in facial expressions: smiles pained and ripping at the seams, alternatively vindictive and humiliated. Yet atop these grimaces is smeared a kind of lurid conviviality.
The whole thing is very disquieting, and all will rejoice to hear that the Pinter-Pauses are out in full force, deployed for the most part as the catchment into which errant and uneasy titters from the first night audience fell. It does manage to capture the millennial crisis of feeling simultaneously on the verge of bursting into tears and bursting into flames. The sexual fantasy is enacted with compulsive dexterity, as though expunging some clinical neurosis. Only lust disrupts the set’s considered symmetry, before the fever bleeds out into a bruised purple vignette.
The second play, The Collection is thematically and stylistically loosened and dimmed down; the stage draped with dusky curtains, evoking the louche atmosphere of a late-night talk show. Gone is the manic pixie house, dissolved into a dreamlike promontory which two couples occupy, together yet separately, while trying to comprehend their lovers’ infidelities. The calm doesn’t last long, as The Collection swivel-tilts rapidly towards camped-up ribaldry. Macmillan and Squires are joined by Russell Tovey and David Suchet, whose arrival fleshes it out into a haughty, far more gestural affair.
Tovey is an awkward yet endearing mixture of campy and cockney, inviting calumny at every turn. Suchet, the arbiter of The Collection’s real comic potential, occasionally pushes it too far in the direction of panto – there’s a moment where he sidles across stage to intercept his lover’s phone call and I was reminded of the Grinch on Christmas morn.
The Collection (and The Lover) still feel incredibly modern in their case-study observations on infidelity and subterfuge, even though none of the indiscretions seem particularly radical by today’s standards. They’re double-edged daggers – or maybe cheese knives – at once genuinely tickling and instruments of torture.
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