On walking into my nosebleed seats in the back of the top balcony of Wyndhams, I thought to myself, “My god! I am sure I have seen this play before, and from an equally ridiculous vantage point!” On the stage a circular room with a bar at the back and handsome windows stood waiting for its occupants; and I remembered the exact same sense of vertigo mixed with a tiny bit of looking into a well from when I’d been to see it eight years back at the Duke of York’s. I could only hope that nearly a decade of watching Pinter would help me understand this play better than I had the last time, when I came away feeling menaced but unsure what the actual threat was.
Can I say my experience of London life since then means that now I know quite clearly what Ian McKellan was referring to when he was talking about the bushes of Hampstead Heath, and that I also now feel 100% positive that he, too, when he mentioned it, knew quite clearly what his character had been up to before he met up with the man hosting him at his posh Hampstead home? And certainly Patrick Stewart’s character has a poor memory, as he’s easily confused about just how long he’s known the drunken “poet” he invited back to his house. And the grousing match they get into about who was a bigger cad is a funny bit of dialogue wittily delivered.
But, really, just how good of a play is this? And did most of the people there care? I found the audience far too worshipful and think both of the gentlemen were strutting a bit, not feeling the need to try to give a good performance but merely to deliver comfort. The other two actors, playing some kind of servants, were giving their all, and I finally started watching them more because they were just more interesting. In the end, though, my feeling was that the whole show was a bit flaccid; but with the entire run close to sold out and premium seats over £100 quid each, my opinion will count for not a fig. I was relieved I’d only paid £25 for my seats, which is about the right price for what was essentially a “see the famous actors” circus; those who want to pay will and if you’re looking for a night of strong theater I’d advise you to fork over everything and go see Travesties at the Menier instead.
(This review is for a performance that took place on September 27th, 2016. It’s booking until December 17th: some seats can still be found, at normal prices, on the Delfont Mackintosh site.)