Posts Tagged ‘One for the Road’

Review – New World Order – Hydrocracker at Shoreditch Town Hall via Barbican

November 22, 2011

Who do I love? Harold Pinter. What do I love? Promenade theater. Bring ’em together? It’s like gelato affogato, my favorite dish drowned in a tasty drink of its own. When I read about Hydrocracker’s mini-Pinters promenade, it was the theater event of the fall calendar for me. I got shafted a bit getting tickets due to a miscommunication with the Barbican box office, but, as ever, continuing to check the website meant when some early birds returned their tickets, I was able to jump on them right away and get myself locked in for this show.

Beforehand I was pacing nervously outside Shoreditch Town Hall (near Old Street); we were wanded down, had our ID checked, then were let inside. The evening promised a mix of Press Conference, One for the Road, Precisely, Mountain Language and The New World Order – short plays united by, well, it said human rights but I thought more “torture” – only one of which I had seen before.

We started with a press conference in a bright shiny room with folding chairs and good lighting, and the Inquisitor of “One for the Road” speaking. It’s not just our rights that are being looked out for by our government; it is our mental hygiene. Bad thoughts aren’t just dangerous, they’re an illness in society. We should be grateful caring people are working to keep us clean. Slowly, as the head of the ministry of culture kept speaking, the questions from the press corps died down. I couldn’t help but think it was exactly what most politicians in democratic societies secretly wish they could make happen – God knows the Russians are very effectively putting it into practice through careful assaults and even executions.

After this point I hesitate to speak in too great depth about what happened. We see the same actors several times: the wife in “One for the Road” comes back again and again as “the wife,” attempting to visit her spouse or to negotiate with his keepers; her husband, the torture victim in “One for the Road,” is in scene after scene, as is the Inquisitor (technically named Nicolas in “One for the Road” but I prefer my name). If I’m honest, I found Nicolas less terrifying and The Wife a weaker actress than I did in the September production at the Print Room; but as this evening was aimed at creating a rather different audience experience, this was only a small detraction.

Together, all of these short plays create a reasonably unified narrative, in which families are separated, people are taken into small rooms where they are subject to rules they cannot understand and punished for made up crimes, and wives and mothers desperately try to find and save, or, at least, succour their partners and children. And the environment adds greatly to the effect, as we move from the fairly well kept council chambers to the decaying, forgotten basement rooms, where voices can be heard yelling behind closed doors. It showed how possible it was for this to literally be going on under our feet as we walk down the streets of London.

Meanwhile, we audience members are bullied by the “guards.” I admit, they did a good job of keeping us going from room to room (crowd control is always a problem for promenades) but also of heping us feel a sense of a loss of control and reduction from person into number. We were separated at random from the people we came with; ordered to go this way and that; asked humiliating and pointless questions; had our identities checked at several points; and had to deal with obnoxious flashlights being shined in our faces in an inimidating fashion. I could feel our control being wrested away; and I tell you, it was effective enough that I felt my instinct to fight to preserve my dignity kicking in. One of the women who was being asked obnoxious questions refused to answer; I had a guard grab my arm when I went the wrong way and I tell you I told him off for daring to touch me. In fact, I felt like some people working this show may have been getting just a little bit too much into their characters, much like the ridiculous TSA people do when they think that by harassing people for carrying a slice of apple off of an international flight they’re somehow keeping the United States safe from terrorism. Mr. Arm Grabber did take me aside and tell me rather more politly that due to health and safety regulations I was in fact not allowed into area X; but there was some part of me that was ready to just disturb all of the performances and say, basically, “There are thirty of this here in this room and four of you. Just you try waving that big stick around again and you can guess where you’re going to be finding it in about two minutes.” I had to restrain myself from getting shirty and organizing a citizens revolt. I could see some other audience members were uncomfortable with what was going on, but yet still staying in their/our roles as quiet sheep. Is this how our right to self determination is taken away, by people’s unwillingness to see it happening in front of our eyes?

Overall, I have to give Hydrocracker great credit for creating an environment where they were able to instill a sense of fear of what it would actually be like to undergo the things Pinter writes around in these plays, and to create a sense of urgency to reclaim our own rights from a government happy to take them away in the name of keeping us “safe.” While the acting was not perfect, as a promenade event, “New World Order” is unmissable.

(This review is for the 9:15 show that took place on Friday November 18th, 2011. The show runs through the 11th of December and though it is sold out, returns do appear on the website regularly. Remember to dress as if you were going to be standing outside for the length of the show, as after the first half hour no seating is provided and the basement rooms are very dank.)

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Review – Pinter Double Header (Victoria Station and One for the Road) – The Print Room (moving to Young Vic)

September 23, 2011

I was VERY excited when I saw the Pinter double header (at The Young Vic) was actually dipping its toe in the London theater scene at The Print Room on Notting Hill before its later October run. This was exciting to me, first, because I was having a hard time fitting the Young Vic shows into my October schedule, and, second, because the Print Room’s location is five minutes’ walk from the Notting Hill Taqueria. (And if you go, be alerted that all tacos there are half priced there before 7 PM. This was a very bright spot in my week after a few too many nights of cold sandwiches.) Pinter in Notting Hill, bring it!

There was a bit of a spooky atmosphere going to the theater, with a candle lit path guiding us to the garden. The set up in the theater itself is an open space with chairs placed around all edges, in the center of which was a man sitting at a table with his head down (I managed to not even really notice him as I was looking for my seat, he was so still). Suddenly the lights flickered down and a bearded man (Keith Dumphy) appeared at a table kitty-corner to the first. The two begin to have a conversation over a sort of walkie-talkie system (bearded man amplified with a convincing public address system metallicness). The controller asks the other, older man some questions, then begins to berate him. The hostility and frustration of the controller is obvious; but the mystery, to me, is why does the older man (Kevin Doyle) not know where he is? How could he possibly be living in London and not know where Victoria Station is? What has gone wrong here? In delicious Pinterian fashion, we are never given an answer to this, nor to the disappearance of (seemingly) everyone else from these two people’s world. Was it nuclear holocaust, the rapture, or a zombie attack? I was left with plenty of mysteries to solve and absolutely no answers, with my hair just a bit on edge from the barely restrained violence. Dee-lish!

Next up (after a startling transition to the horrible florescent overheads typical of so many offices) was a complete transition as Doyle now became Nicolas, a sadist with a taste for whiskey (“One for the Road”), who for reasons unknown has Victor (Dunphy) under his control. Why is Victor there? What world or country is this where patriotism and religion have become so important? Is it America in ten years? The raised hand feeling, the implied violence behind so many Pinters, has rarely felt so very intense as it did in this play. No one was actually struck, but off the stage people’s bodies and lives were being destroyed. Doyle wasn’t quite note perfect – I think not enough coldness in his heart – but the show was intense and nearly unbearable. My friend thanked me for inviting him after it was all over, and, truly, it was a really great night of theater – ninety minutes in which I fully forgot everything that existed outside of the tiny room I was in.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, September 20th, 2011. It continues at the Print Room until October 1st then moves to the Young Vic for an October 6-15th run.)