I was not quite sure what to expect when travelling to the Rose Theatre in Kingston to see Julian Sands in a Celebration of Harold Pinter. This past year I have attended three Pinter productions in London and been extremely moved by the playwright’s accurate portrayal the emotive layers of the human psyche, by his simplistic and direct conveyance of the chaotic through the medium of theatre. Pinter, when done well hums, vibrates through the air and hits a pitch that few others in his field can match. When done poorly, well lets just say you would rather stay at home for the evening.
So on to the stage walked Julian Sands, the British actor who first caught my attention in his portrayal of Liszt in the film “Chopin”. His figure was striking against the black stage as he entered. His cool crisp English accent cut through the still air as he breathed life into the written words of Pinter.
This one man show, which originated earlier this year at the Edinburgh fringe festival, is directed by John Maklovich. It is a piece I wish I could have experienced in rehearsal to witness the interaction between Malkovich and Sands. As it was, I tried to imagine the interplay between the two during parts of the piece. During deliberate pauses or ironic tilts of the head, I could sense Malkovich’s guidance.
It is argued that Pinter may be the greatest UK playwright of the 20th century. Yet in this production it is the poetry and the man that Sands focuses upon. Sands personal admiration and compassion for this stage legend come through in every breath of the performance. He admires both the weaknesses and the strengths of Pinter’s character. Through personal anecdotes, private stories, and reading of the written word, the audience feels as if they are presented with a rare glimpse behind the scenes of Pinter the public figure. His character comes alive through this three dimensional representation which this piece presents.
Pinter’s poem “I know the place. It is true. Everything we do corrects the space between me and you” stands as a corner piece of Pinter’s deceptively simplistic style. Sands recollects how the writer, upon a misreading, suggests that he should read it and that one day he may understand it’s meaning. And it is in this that we find the true essence of Pinter, his words, language, literature will represent different meanings at different stages in each of our lives. His work does not stagnate, but evolves with the reader’s development and understanding.
This production is a moving portrayal of the lesser-known works of Pinter by a talented and well-informed performer. It was a pure joy and intellectual challenge to experience this performance, just as all Pinter, I believe, is meant to be. I left the theatre and went straight to buy the book “Various Voices”. I challenge you not to do the same.
Harold Pinter’s Betrayal was premiered way back in 1978 at the Lyttleton and the play is just as strong today as it was back then and will not lose any of its punch if it is played out for audiences in 30 years’ time. This is because the central theme of infidelity is something that will always be a pertinent subject and it is becoming all the more ubiquitous in our highly sexualised age.
Harold Pinter understands this very well because this play was inspired by an affair he had during the 60’s with BBC Television presenter Joan Bakewell
Ian Rickson’s production at the Comedy theatre centres around a love affair between Jerry (Douglas Henshall) and his best friend’s wife, Emma (Kristen Scott-Thomas). It opens on a meeting between the two philandering characters in a pub. You learn that their affair has since come to its climax and we are witnessing something of a reunion. The play then gradually moves back in time, allowing for insight into the secrets, deceptions and exertions of passionate love that ultimately lead to the events of the first scene.
Through Pinter’s ingenious reverse chronology of the narrative, dramatic irony is used to powerful effect which, coupled with Pinter’s economical use of dialogue and the subtleties that resonate through each multi-layered interaction, makes for a beautifully pitched piece of theatre, although this production is certainly not perfect.
The cast play the disingenuous and reticent characters very well, convincing in their utter disregard for one another’s feelings. I felt tenderness between Jerry and Emma, the breaks in the dialogue communicating a much greater and purer intent, contradicted of course by their rather insensitive behaviour towards their respective friend and partner. These were two characters that had lives to lose, bound into a commitment through what they believed to be love, forced into secret meetings because their everyday lives were not satisfying enough; their love though not strong enough to break the confines of their prospective marriages.
The mise- en scene was also nicely communicated with a bed being present almost throughout the entire production- a constant reminder of the scene of the betrayal.
I did however struggle with Douglas Henshall’s arrogant and at times dis likeable Jerry. This is clearly a man in the throes of love and passion but that was not truly communicated. I felt there could have been an incandescence to his character that was sadly lacking. Both Scott-Thomas and Ben Miles were strong as the couple emotionally wrenched apart by their selfish actions.
Ultimately this robust production left me satisfied although I feel with a text so rich, so nuanced and so beautifully complex, I wanted more from the performances that felt, at times, a little sterile.
I feel rather fortuitous, given that I stumbled upon an advert for Harold Pinter’s Moonlight at the Donmar a full two months before the performance was to commence. With that knowledge in mind, I swiftly snapped up a pair of tickets with the only drawback being that I had to suspend my anticipation for what seemed like aeons before I had the opportunity to see it on stage- woe is me!
The performance did not let me down as I was compelled, emotionally roused and drawn to constantly search for my own interpretation within Pinter’s typically tacit and nuanced play. The intimate Donmar was the ideal venue for this tragic tale of the embittered Andy, lying on his death bed with his long-suffering wife, Bel, meditating on his past, speaking lucidly and with caustic reverie of his past indiscretions. The two other main characters are their sons, Jake and Fred, who live in a dingy bedsit, both bedraggled and offer no sympathy and very little mention of their dying father, choosing rather to indulge in intellectual wordplay- a clear indication that Andy was perhaps not exactly a model father. Andy and Bel’s deceased daughter also makes a couple of fleeting appearances, to bridge the gap between life and death.
The performances across the entire cast were excellent, with particular reference to David Bradley’s Andy. Bradley has the face of a man who has suffered, worn away by the pitfalls of life and rendered in to a scathing, scabrous malcontent. This play was a meditation of the final moments of death, when you have nowt to do but to think of the most significant memories that have defined you over the years, when all you can do is reminisce and try and celebrate what you have achieved. There is no celebration of life through Andy however as he questions why his sons have not visited him which is never explicitly answered, though through certain allusions to the past you can safely deduct that his rather bitter behaviour has contributed to his loneliness in death. Bel, played by Deborah Findlay, acting as the voice of calm and reason, is a brilliant counterpoint for Max; dry in her delivery but with an undercurrent of warmth that becomes clearer as the play reaches its climax.
It is not difficult to admire the genius of Pinter, his superior command of the language, lines of dialogue which are eloquent and forever poetic and this play showcased his talents in spades. The set was perfectly structured, with the two settings placed next to one another that allowed for swift interchanges between the two scenes; and, owing to the intimacy of the venue and the standard of performances across the cast, it at times felt as if this was not a work of fiction but a tragic slice of real life.
The new theatre season is among us and what an exciting time it could prove to be.
The RSC has announced a season of plays that hark back to its illustrious history as it is celebrating its 40th birthday this year. An interesting article in the Financial Times enlightened me to some of the RSC’s triumphs over the years which are clearly myriad if I am to be honest. I was pleasantly surprised and excited in equal measure in the new-found knowledge that, in the past, they have premiered 5 of Harold Pinter’s plays that include one of my favourite in the deeply unsettling, The Homecoming which is the subject of a revival in the summer. The season also sees the RSC reviving two other successes over the annals of theatrical time; Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade and Dunsinane by David Greig.
The seemingly imperialist RSC are also premiering a play at the Hampstead theatre about a spacecraft designer and very much the man behind-the-scenes of Yuri Gagarin’s first orbit around the earth, Sergei Korolyov. The play is entitled Little Eagles and runs from the 16th April to the 7th May.
With the theme of revivals firmly in mind, The Royal Court are bringing back a play that they last staged more than 50 years ago. Arnold Wesker’s Chicken Soup with Barley deals with the effect the rapidly changing world is having on a Jewish family and is set over a period of 20 years. The play will be directed by Dominic Cooke who is currently enjoying success with Clybourne Park. Cooke remarked at his excitement of directing this play, “Bringing Arnold Wesker’s play back to the Royal Court after 50 years is an exciting prospect. Chicken Soup with Barley is an epic play that spans twenty years in the life of an East End Jewish family. It vividly captures a loss of political idealism, a feeling which chimes with our own confused times.”
And finally, two Chekhov plays are set for a revival within the coming weeks. Arcola Theatre are playing host in what promises to be a new imagining of Chekhov’s classic, Uncle Vanya. This interpretation has already received critical acclaim from both The Times and The Guardian and runs from the 27th April to the 4th June.
I have to admit, owing to a little snobbery on my part, I am more excited at the prospect of seeing another of Chekhov’s plays, The Cherry Orchard, which is showing at the National this Spring. Fresh from her acclaimed performance in the brilliant All My Sons last year, Zoe Wanamaker will be playing Madame Ranevskaya and Howard Davies will be directing. It is part of the National Theatre’s excellent Travelex season so some tickets will cost only a mere £12. The Cherry Orchard runs from 10th May- 28th July
After searching through the labyrinth of the internet keenly looking for anything exciting pending in London’s theatreland I have discovered a few potentials that will definitely excite audiences and critics alike. Firstly, Pinter will be back in the West End at the Donmar. A production of Moonlight will be playing from 7th April to 28th May and unfortunately for those relative early birds, it has already sold out but the wonderful people at the Donmar provide a small allocation of day seats at a sensible price provided you pick them up in person. Now, I know this may mean going to work a little late or perhaps even, dare I say, skiving, but those pertinacious enough will, I am sure, be duly rewarded.
Theatre company LOVE&MADNESS are putting on a short run of Dario Fo’s excellent farce, Accidental Death of an Anarchist at the Waterloo East theatre. Now, if you are like me, you would remember that the Donmar did a run of it many moons ago with Rhys Ifans in the lead role as Maniac and again, if you are like me, you would have been aggrieved at missing out on that particular performance- this is the chance to catch this hilarious play but ensure to get tickets early. It runs from 5-10 April.
Also, I’m very excited about the upcoming Globe season, which includes a celebration of 400 years of the King James Bible where actors, over a weekend, will read the entire Bible. I am very curious as to see how they decide to stage this and transform a verbatim reading into a theatrical experience. Christopher Marlowe’s, seemingly ubiquitous Dr Faustus will also be playing at the Globe in the summer. Exciting times indeed.
The Tories can’t keep theatre down!