Posts Tagged ‘Pinter’

Review – No Man’s Land – Wyndham’s Theater

October 26, 2016

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.)

Mini-review – Betrayal – Comedy Theater

August 19, 2011

There is something so perfect about seeing Pinter at the Comedy Theater, where, per the posters, nearly every play he’s written has been produced, or so it seems. Unfortunately the current revival of Betrayal is suffering from the pricing associated with celebrity casting (Kristin Scott Thomas), so I’ve put off seeing this show for months waiting for seats I could afford. £25.00 in the way way way up there balcony? Forget it. However, Lastminute.com saved my bacon with some £15 restricted view seats that were at least actually seats rather than standing (albeit designed for ladies shorter and slimmer than myself: I spent the whole show sitting sideways), so a few days before this production ends I was finally able to see it.

The production got off to a stilted start as Thomas sits with Douglas Henshall, the boyfriend to her character Emma, having drinks at a table and failing to discuss whatever it is they’ve come to discuss. While I thought they might try to play up the Pinterian “silences,” in fact the clunkiness came from the rather mechanical way they were and then weren’t looking at each other. Sentence end: she up, he down. Pause: he at her, she sideways. I imagined them being drilled in it mercilessly until Ian Rickson was positive they knew exactly, at every phrase, where Emma and Jerry are looking. I quailed as we were dragged through the painful scene. Was this going to be a terrible evening? Just minutes later (though going backwards in time), Emma throws the keys across the stage in what was supposed to be a furious, despairing moment, but which had the sponenaiety of a birthday party for Kim Jong Il.

And then … God, when did the magic happen? Was it when snippy, somewhat evil Robert (Ben Miles) came on stage and we started to see the proof of the first of what began to seem like an endless series of lies? Watching Robert prowl around and bluster, I couldn’t help but think of the playwright’s own lies in telling this play, as he retold his own story in a way that suited his needs. Who really was the baddie? Was the boyfriend portrayed as a bit of a simpleton in part to wreak revenge for the wife’s infidelity, or was the husband a bully because it made him less sympathetic? I wasn’t sure of the details of the real life incidents but, man, I got sucked in fast. Scene after scene of unspun and newly minted untruths, the simple hard facts of how manipulative people are to each other, the strange mystery of how passion plays into the equation, the sense of ownership that comes into relationships, the pathetic reality of how completely unable to entangle ourselves from each other we are … I was almost breathless waiting for each scene to happen. I lost track of time. I lost track of the play. I forgot about the actors (although I did wonder about some clothes and set furnishings). And suddenly it was over and, oh man, Pinter had taken me for quite a ride. I realize it was only 90 minutes long but it was the most engaged period of time I’d spent in a theater in ages.

Anyway, it’s a few days later, and the play is closing this weekend, but man, if you’re trying to figure out what to do and you want one of those peak experiences, I’d highly recommend seeing Betrayal. I was immensely pleased at what I got for £15 (despite the near bruises on my shins) and expect you will be, too.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, August 15th, 2011. It’s final perfomance is Saturday at 7:30 PM.)

Review – Pinter’s The Birthday Party – Lyric Hammersmith

May 20, 2008

Normally I don’t bother seeing a play twice unless it’s a razzle dazzle musical (i.e. Drowsy Chaperone). But in this case, I went to see a play I thought was really bad … in the hopes that in more competent hands, it would be really good. As you should know, I am a big Pinter fan. The previous time we saw The Birthday Party was at the Capitol Hill Arts Center in Seattle, Washington. Now, I tend to find fringe theater (of the sort we saw so much of in Seattle) very enjoyable in general – when it’s not actually part of a fringe festival, but rather by an established, small company presenting a regular season. Seattle companies really have very high quality actors, inventive directors, and all sorts of other things going for them that makes their shows generally quite good. But The Birthday Party was a failure. We couldn’t make sense of it, and we felt to a great extent it was because it didn’t make sense to the actors. They seemed to be just saying the lines to each other, as if they were reading a series of shuffled together flash-cards with dialogue written on them, yet not really understanding a word of what was coming out of their mouths. So they successfully showed they’d memorized the play, but, otherwise, they just stumbled through it practically with a look of fear and desperation in their faces that wasn’t really called for by the story line.

Three years later, I’m living in London, and I have really come to believe that American actors just can’t handle Pinter. It’s not, as Ben Brantley says in his review of Homecoming, that they can’t get the class implications in the accents. I fact, it’s so much more than that; it’s a complete miss on the culture underlying the plays, into which I fortunately have a little more insight these days. I was pretty aware of how far I had come watching The Birthday Party tonight at they Lyric Hammersmith. For example, I heard someone talk about getting “fried bread” for breakfast in the first act, and I thought, in America, that would just sound surreal and would probably throw an actor off. In America, you don’t fry bread any more than you fry lettuce or milk. And later, a man talks about coming home with the lights off “and I put a shilling in the slot and, boom! Lights on, nobody home!” This also is completely nonsensical because in America you don’t have coin activated meters to dole out electricity. You have parking meters and you have pay laundromats, but coins in a slot do not turn lights on.

I think these kinds of things would really fluster actors – the play would have to be annotated just as thoroughly as Shakespeare for them to follow along with what was going on. The towns where Goldberg went on vacation all have certain associations and implications, the concept of what it means to be a “deck chair attendant” at a beach resort means something, it all just builds on a life that can’t mean anything to a person who hasn’t seriously researched the culture and, perhaps, lived in it (as much as you can live in 1958). So it’s no surprise that the previous production I had seen was a failure, but I can’t really hold it against the actors too much.

I’m pleased to say that the production we saw tonight at the Lyric Hammersmith was a complete success in nearly every way and has pretty well completely overwritten my previous memory of the play. The doddering old landlady (Sheila Hancock) is not a drooling, brainless maniac – she’s a sweet, friendly, older woman who wouldn’t think it unreasonable to be flirted with (a bit of a Blanche Dubois in some ways), but not nearly the sex fiend she somehow came across before. Petey, the husband (Alan Williams), is a fairly decent man who lives a life that’s very much in many ways built on habit – but he’s still engaged with the world.

Goldberg (Nicholas Woodeson) and McCann (Lloyd Hutchinson) – what is up with Pinter and his fascination with mob types? Hitmen in The Dumbwaiter, a pimp in Homecoming – is this his fantasy of the dark side of London or something? When last I saw them, they were as evil and creepy as Gaiman’s Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, and I found the scene where they were trying to force Stanley (this time played by Justin Salinger) to sit in a chair unbearably tense. I imagined them trying to break his legs once they got him down. They also seemed to be in a struggle with each other, for Goldberg to prove he still retained his youthful power by exerting himself over McCann. This didn’t really seem to be the dynamic tonight. Instead, McCann was the somewhat stupid muscle (with the loveliest singing voice!) who was very obedient to Goldberg’s wishes – including the scene where he blew in his mouth (and WTF was that about – I was cracking up). He had a lovely Irish accent (which Chris Macdonald flubbed) … which put Goldberg’s bizarre English/Jewish accent into high relief to me, as an American New York/Jewish accent leavened with occasional Britishness. It sounded like he’d tried to cram the two things together unsuccessfully, as if to imply the whole schtick Goldberg was doing was a put-on. I imagined the actor had perhaps just failed to get a proper voice coach, but the friends I went with to the play (Trish and Simon) assured me he sounded completely fine to them.

So, really what do I know, I am still a foreigner here. I will say, though, that this play was a really good time for us and much more clearly comic than it was the last time I saw it. I no longer think it’s meant to be read literally, and the absurdist elements were very clear to me (“We’ll make a man out of you!” “And a woman!”). What, really, is the plot? We weren’t able to make it out. Stanley (Justin Salinger, looking too young for the role) didn’t really telegraph it to me, and Pinter, as usual, didn’t bother telling me up front by having something obvious like an extended, painful mermaid metaphor at the beginning of the play. Bless his black little heart! I was so pleased I went and bought a book “about his thoughts on his work” in the lobby at the end of the night, and I’m going to try to puzzle through it myself. In fact, now that I see that his complete archives are at the British Library, I’m wondering if perhaps I ought to do even more research on him … of the sort that might eventually lead to a book of my own. I bet I’ve got it in me, but it’s going to be hard to do when I don’t want to read any scripts for shows I haven’t seen lest I ruin the surprise. How will I ever have the same amount of fun discussing what happened after a show (as if I and the person sitting next to me had seen two completely different plays) if I already know what the received wisdom is on the play I’m watching? One play at a time, though, I bet I can eventually make it through the oevre, even in enough time to get that book written. It’s a goal!

Apologies for a lack of posting

January 17, 2008

Well, after the frenzy of the holidays, it’s almost no surprise that I’d start the year exhausted – only it’s been a cold that’s taken me out. I managed to drag myself to the extremely charming Les Patineurs at the Royal Ballet on January 8th (I also saw the, er, cutesy but rather too long Tales of Beatrix Potter, what can you say about it but, “Yeah, those are world class ballerinas wearing squirrel costumes”), but haven’t been able to hold my head up long enough to write about it.

I have, however, cast my eyes toward the future. Coming up next is Othello at the Donmar, then hopefully Human Steps at Sadler’s Wells. In the next few months, I’m looking forward to seeing Chroma at the Royal Ballet (and hopefully Sylvia), Speed the Plow at the Old Vic, The Good Soul of Szechuan at the Young Vic (Brecht!), Dealer’s Choice at Trafalgar Studios (thanks to the ten quid tickets on Last Minute), Shen Yun at the Southbank Center, and the Pinter double feature at the Comedy Theatre. I’ve also got my eyes on The Mikado at ENO and the yum yum City Ballet at the same venue (two of the shows, the new choreographers and Jerome Robbins pieces). I want to buy tickets for them all NOW (oh, and the Chinese Opera at Sadler’s Wells this June) but post-Christmas finances are forcing austerity on me for now. Soon, my pet, soon!

Mini-review – Hothouse – National Theatre

July 19, 2007

The good part of my evening: we went and say Hothouse at the National. The script was great, lots of really fun dialogue that all read really well (none of that “What?” stuff except when I was going, “What was that about a duck?”) and a lot of good performances – well worth our 10 pound day seats.

Unfortunately as I had a crap day that’s all I have to say. Today can be summed up as “Pinter and morons.” I hate it when work makes me feel like drinking. All I had tonight was half a shot of Campari, though, and it was pretty nasty. Night, all.

(This review is for a performance that was seen on July 19th, 2007. It was migrated from another blog.)

Review – The Caretaker – The Tricycle

April 12, 2007

Dinner last night at Buka was not as good as forgettable because it was actively bad. This came down to three things: tough/burnt meat, overly spiced food (with no actual flavor), and the nauseating smell of fish paste. I ate half of it and felt the rest of it burning a hole in my stomach through the rest of the evening. It was actually at the second level of really hot, the one where my ears ring, and while I can make it through to the third level, I will only do this for food that actually tastes good. Perhaps I will try Nigerian food again, but, frankly, I’d rather pick Somali/Ethiopian/Eritrean after this horrifying experience. And it was overpriced to boot. Bah.

Pinter’s The Caretaker was mis-described as “comic.” Me, well, I think watching a messed up homeless old man try to find a safe place to live isn’t intrinsically humorous, nor is listening to someone try to process the horror of being incarcerated in a mental hospital (though that soliloquy was the highlight of the play). We both found it … overdesigned, or something – careful spotlights, overly polished music cues, a set that was 100% realistic and all built out. Where was the room for the imagination? That said, the character of the caretaker was utterly believable, and I found myself trying to figure out just what his childhood would have been like to have got him to this point … fantastically acted and obviously written to perfection. That said, I wasn’t compelled by the show, and figured I’d get just as much out of the second act if I’d bought the script and read it at home – I was emotionally checked out. And I didn’t get home until 11:45 to boot, which has, in respect, made me resentful. Give this one a pass.

(This review is for a performance that took place on April 11th, 2007. The review was written for a different blog.)