Pinter at the Pinter aims to feature all of Harold Pinter’s one act plays, aptly performed at the Harold Pinter Theatre. Jamie Lloyd has taken on this challenge, and it already looks like an exciting if not slightly bizarre season.
Pinter One opens with two sketches – Press Conference and Precisely. Press Conference is a political monologue arguably as relevant today, as when it was written. Precisely introduces us to Kate O’Flynn and Maggie Steed, playing Stephen and Roger; the first of many bold sociopolitical choices made by director Jamie Lloyd. It goes some way in introducing us to performances laced with ambiguity around subject matter, but which are somehow incredibly enjoyable regardless.
The New World Order continues in a vein of generally not treating other humans very well – a theme which seems to run avidly through Pinter’s plays. Mountain Language follows, and is perhaps the most beautiful set of the collection of plays. These two pieces in particular are uncomfortable to watch, at best. The production is beautiful in all aspects, but the subject matter of these plays puts a ceiling on how much one can enjoy them, which is probably the point.
The Pres and An Officer sees a horrendously believable caricature of Donald Trump appear centre stage. This adaptation of a play where an American President accidentally destroys London brings an amusing aspect to a series of pieces in which there is a clear dominating person or organisation, as a musical number suggesting that we Fuck Donald Trump ensues.
Death is kind to the audience, in that at least it sets itself up to be as harrowing as it is. It is Maggie Steed’s moment to shine, and she does exactly that. One For The Road is one of the most uncomfortable plays to watch in Pinter One, but not by much, to be fair. The inclusion of a child in such an atrocious set of circumstances only compounds this.
In the second act, Ashes to Ashes slows the production down slightly, in a good way. The relationship between Devlin (Paapa Essiedu) and Rebecca (Kate O’Flynn) is anything but clear, and its multifaceted nature points the finger at many aspects of faltering relationships. It does nothing for ensuring that anyone leaves the theatre feeling uplifted or hopeful, but it does cement the surety that a brilliantly written and even more wonderfully directed piece of work has been enjoyed. Lia Williams has done a sterling job, here.
Kate O’Flynn and Paapa Essiedu are true stars. While they would shine in any of the plays in which they feature during Pinter One, their versatility is highlighted in this format. It may not be advisable to see only Pinter One, though…
Luckily, Pinter Two comprising The Lover and The Collection offers some light relief from the heavy, depressing and frankly morbid tones of Pinter One. Opening with a bright pink set and beautifully contrasting outfits, it is possible to relax a little more rather than sitting on the edge of the seat. The Lover is as ridiculous as it is amusing, and comprises some brilliant one liners as well as quick witted duologues. It is a good thing, that it is only one act, as the format becomes repetitive after a while.
The Collection notably stars David Suchet, and a live cat. It is also the first time across Pinter One and Pinter Two where the audience may truly get a grasp on relationships between characters and where the story is developed in a more traditional fashion, rather than the genius being based in utter confusion.
The Harold Pinter Theatre has often been a hub of complex or traditional work by various playwrights, and while this season is no exception, Pinter at the Pinter is far more accessible than it may first appear. It will be enjoyed by hardened theatre goers and those just curious to see a few plays in one go; those knowing which play is their favourite and those who haven’t heard of any of them. Jamie Lloyd is on to something very special.