Pinter Three, part of the comprehensive festival of short plays currently underway at the Harold Pinter Theatre, sees an starry cast of five work their way through a series of pieceswith dexterity and humour.
We start with the dreamy, disjointed Landscape, in which Tamsin Greig takes on the role of Beth, fixated in a memory whilst Keith Allen as Duff barks, snaps and growls for her attention in the present moment. Greig’s delivery of this piece is beautiful and very tender, her mellifluent voice fluttering through the memory in a convincing rural Irish accent that adds to the gentle lullaby of reminiscence. This gentle, coastal lilt comes up against Allen’s brusque London tones in the same way that water flows around a particularly jagged rock. Allen is excellent as Duff, and manages to be aggressively loud and brash whilst exuding a kind of quiet and strangely moving desperation. Whilst Greig’s character lives in the half-light of the past, a kind of ghost onstage, Allen’s character is filled with the vitality of earthly life, talking expressively of the shit that litters the park and his frustrated and furious desires. Allen, like the rest of the cast, is attired in dull, brownish knitwear, the dowdiness of the costumes acting as an excellent disguise for the fizzing comedy, loucheness and pure emotional energy that exists beneath – although it has to be said, this is truer of the male characters/performers than of their female counterparts.
Landscape is a classic Pinter combination: a woman somehow distant and elevated beyond reality and a man fully alive and rooted in the present moment. This contrasting energy is very apparent in the selection of pieces for Pinter Three, and whilst Greig holds her own softly in this opening piece from here on it’s a bit of a boy’s show. This, to be honest, is fair enoughwhen the boys in question are the fantastic Tom Edden and the incomparable Lee Evans. Edden takes on the hilarious and bizarre Girls with exceptional neurotic energy, eyes popping and hands flapping as he navigates the twists and turns of this knotty, bombastic monologue. It is hard to do justice in writing to the pure, electrical energy of this piece, to the exceptional comic handling and the precise emotional turns. One masterclass follows another, as Evans closes the first half in exceptional style with Monologue, bringing his natural clowning abilities to a poignant and lonely piece as the rain poured down on the Pinter theatre, hammering on the roof behind this speech.
Edden and Evans dominant act two with That’s Your Troubleand Trouble in the Works, two very different yet equally hilarious duets, one set at the bar of a London pub and the other in the manager’s office of a Yorkshire factory. The revolving cube set in the centre of the stage works extremely hard and extremely well, transporting us from one setting to another seamlessly, with a back wall closing in for the final pieces of both halves, trapping us in the unremitting bleakness of A Kind of Alaska to finish.
It is worth coming to see Pinter Three for the pieces involving Edden and Evans alone, for with the exception of Allen in the first piece (and as Mrs B in the very funny That’s All) the rest of the production feels somewhat underpowered in comparison. Meera Syal, the fifth cast member, is an exceptionally talented performer, and yet her monologues God’s District and Special Offer just can’t match what has come before and what comes after. This is perhaps less a reflection on Syal and more on Pinter, who specialises in a kind of raw, savage masculinity, his complicated male characters reaching peaks of vitality and intensity that his female characters simply never get anywhere near, at least in these pieces. Syal and Greig have some tender interactions in A Kind of Alaska, the final piece, but after the riots of Edden and Evans this last section feels punishingly slow.
A Kind of Alaska is one of Pinter’s best known pieces, and it is exquisite, yet the setting of it here somehow feels a little off-key, a slow application of singularly depressing brakesafter the humour and liveliness. Although there is a lot to be said for contrasting pieces, something more like Party Timemight have felt like a better fit, leaving the audience with the oddness of the stark final monologue in that piece for a short, sharp break from the humour rather than sinking us into the deep, disturbing dreamland of A Kind of Alaska.
Images: Marc Brenner