Review – Moonlight – Donmar Theater

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My first exposure to the incredible depth that can be found in the works of Harold Pinter came with the Donmar’s production of Old Times back in 2004. It was astounding; I felt like I’d finally found a playwright who respected his audience enough to not feel the need to tell them everything. This was a person who was writing for me, and if I found it hard going, well, it was my job to figure it out.

Since then I’ve been seeing Pinter plays as often as I can, not trying to see everything that is done but trying to see every play at least once. Thus, Moonlight was a ticket I bought automatically, as it’s a Pinter play I haven’t seen and, well, the Donmar, you know, they may have a style but this play firmly is in the middle of what they do well and was absolutely guaranteed to be a great production (not to mention deliciously affordable at £10 in the balcony). Excitingly for me, I recognized two of the actors from other shows, one (“the wife,” Deborah Findlay) from the fabulous John Gabriel Borkman (same role, different husband) in this same theater; the other (“the husband,” David Bradley) from the Tricycle’s Caretaker where he played the eponymous role: so funny to see him transformed from creepy old bum to semi-respectable asshole – somehow it seemed that it was all on a continuum of “life in Pinter” where one could just go from one state to another, much as one goes from “mother” to “grandmother” or possibly “serving wretch” depending on how the circumstances of your life change in the intervening years. But I digress.

So I’m sitting here now, writing this, wondering: what do I talk about, the production? The plot? The questions it left behind? It’s the third I’m most interested in, but I suspect only Pinter fanatics feel that way. The set is lovely, blues framed by a line of occasionally blinding white whose fading seemed a literal echo of Dylan Thomas’ “dying of the light” (against with Bradley spends the play raging); the sound design is sparse but gets special mention for use of the Cure’s “Love Cats” (first time I’ve heard a band from my wasted college years used in a show) in a throwaway moment. And the set, showing two different environments (a seedy flat, the bedroom of a well-to-do household) side by side is sparse and effective, a perfect accompaniment to the script, showing that the four main actors are both hopelessly intertwined with each other while emphasizing the chasm in their daily existences.

Overall, this seems to me to be a lesser Pinter play, if well done. Bradley is strong in the main role of the dying, hallucinating former civil servant who seems to revel in torturing his wife with his past excesses; Findlay neatly conveys long-term suffering tempered by the knowledge of her certain release from her husband’s foul mouth. But their two sons, who seem to be dole-funded layabouts who spend their days playing mind games with each other, don’t have clear roles in the show and seem disposable. Ultimately, they only really seem to matter in the scene where their mother takes her one solo action in the play; calling to their apartment to ask them to visit their dying father. In this we get our long, Pinteresque moment of silent and tension, as the phone rings and rings while the boys stare at it as if it were a terrorist buzzing their doorbell, finally answering, “Laundry service.” The mother attempts to get them to engage with her struggle, then breaks down into playing the game with them; showing her connection with them and emphasizing the uncrossable divide between them and their father.

It was a perfect moment, but in many ways the play might be even better if the sons (and their 20 or more minutes of stage time) were eliminated altogether and we just focused on the couple as they moved slowly toward death. The noticeable slowing at the end would disappear and we, the audience, would have a much tidier set of destroyed human beings to deal with. It seems to me the play was far more vibrant in the scenes in which the father and the wife argue about their lives together and what death means; when they are not the focus, it seems garbled. Though I know Pinter constructed this deliberately, still, this time he said too much; but I considered it a good evening out and rewarding viewing nonetheless.

(This review is for a preview performance of Moonlight that took place on Friday, April 8th, 2011. It continues through May 28th and looks to be sold out for the entire run.)

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One Response to “Review – Moonlight – Donmar Theater”

  1. A year in blogging – Webcowgirl’s most popular posts of 2011 – and tips for improving your blog stats « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] Review – Moonlight – Donmar Theater494 […]

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