Review – The Hothouse – Simon Russell Beale et al at Trafalgar Studios

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It’s been nearly six years since I saw The Hothouse, and my notes on the last viewing were quite short: as I liked it, that meant I thought it would be even better as performed by Simon Russell Beale at the conveniently located Trafalgar Studios.

Well, hmm. I think I may have been wrong about this. The marriage of the top male comedic performer on stage today and Pinter is not, shall we say, made in heaven. I found much joy in a play set in an insane asylum in which everyone is working to their own advantage; you get to wonder what each character’s real goals are. But in this version … every thing seems muddy. Miss Cutts, is she really a nymphomaniac looking to seduce every male member of staff, or is it just how Indira Varma plays her? (Jessica Rabbit, of course, was just written that way.) Gibbs, is he really there to help Roote (Beale), and, if so, what is he doing with a knife in his shirt?

The conflict between the characterizations and how the play is written becomes most glaring when Roote suddenly attacks Lush, with whom he had been drinking just a moment before. It seems completely out of keeping with his character, which is that of a bumbling official not much in charge of his subordinates. Where did the anger come from? Why would Lush submit to such horrible treatment? The more I thought about it, the more it all seemed a clash; Pinter has written the man to be violent and capable, not to be a doddering fool. The characters need to all seem murderous; instead, it’s the play that gets it in the neck.

I watched this play from the cheapie “on stage” seats, and the overall experience was very odd: not just a backstage feel, but the exposed “three hundred people are watching me” thing combined with not very good angles for about half of the show (not a lot of backs but too many). I liked how cheap the seats were, but given that many of them weren’t even padded, by the interval I found my bum had gone completely numb. In a way, I was glad the show was played for laughs, because it kept my attention; overall, though, I was disappointed by this show and by my seats, and I certainly wouldn’t have thought it worth paying £45 or up to sit in the stalls. This Hothouse is merely tepid: give it a pass.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, May 21st, 2013. It continues through August 3rd, at which time the cast will go on a well-deserved holiday.)

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