Pinter One and Pinter Two
Harold Pinter Theatre, London Until Oct 20, 2hrs each
Ten years on from his death, Harold Pinter’s one-act plays are being given a season at the theatre that bears his name. Director Jamie Lloyd’s project is admirably ambitious – but what a gruesome start. The political plays in Pinter One feature torture and more torture; indeed they are torture.
The most substantial of the five one-acters that make up Pinter One is One For The Road, where an interrogator – Antony Sher, dead creepy – talks to a prisoner whose wife is being raped upstairs. A mute Paapa Essiedu sweats memorably at his captor’s hideous, mock bonhomie: ‘I’m the chatty type!’
The Pres And An Officer is a skit about the US President (the guest star being impressionist Jon Culshaw) who mistakenly nukes London thinking it’s the capital of France. Exactly the sort of mistake Trump could commit.
The most substantial of the five one-acters that make up Pinter One is One For The Road. A mute Paapa Essiedu (above) sweats memorably at his captor’s hideous, mock bonhomie
Then there’s the agitprop sketch about two blustering MPs – Tories, of course – in which Maggie Steed is rather good.
Mountain Language is Pinter’s prison play, featuring dog bites, torture and appalling cruelty in a country where a local language is forbidden. Michael Gambon supplies the voice of a guard.
I suspect the unseen, unmentioned villain of the piece is Mrs Thatcher (she suppressed the voice of the IRA), whom Pinter loathed almost as much as he hated America.
The Pres And An Officer is a skit about the US President (the guest star being impressionist Jon Culshaw, above) who mistakenly nukes London thinking it’s the capital of France
Even in short plays, Pinter couldn’t half bang on. No more so than in Ashes To Ashes, about a sado-masochistic relationship, here directed, badly, by actor Lia Williams. It’s a deeply dodgy two-hander with the memorable line ‘kiss my fist’. Paapa Essiedu (again) plays the man, Kate O’Flynn the semi-throttled woman.
For some human cheer, best try Pinter Two, featuring two shorts shown on ITV in the early Sixties. The Lover is about a housewife (a radiant Hayley Squires) who takes a lover each day when hubbie (John Macmillan) goes to work. It turns out the husband is also her lover in this amusing, surprisingly erotic, role-play fantasy.
David Suchet makes a campy appearance in The Collection, with Russell Tovey as his young companion. The latter is accused by a husband of having had a fling with his wife in a Leeds hotel room.
This being Pinter, you never quite know what’s going on. Sexual ambiguity reigns, but the touch is light.
There’s a lot more to come in this Pinter-fest, with Danny Dyer, Jane Horrocks, Gary Kemp, Martin Freeman and Tamsin Greig among the stars lined up for one-act plays later this year and next.
The Habit Of Art
Theatre Royal Brighton Touring until Dec 1, 2hrs 30mins
Alan Bennett’s 2009 play is funny, fascinating, hilariously filthy, and shines a powerful light into the English creative mind.
The main characters are the poet W H Auden and the composer Benjamin Britten, both of whom are gay.
Auden has returned to Oxford a year before his death. We meet him peeing in the sink and, joy of joys, confusing his biographer (who’s come to interview him) with the rent boy he ordered by phone.
Alan Bennett’s 2009 play is funny, fascinating and hilariously filthy. Above: Matthew Kelly and David Yelland as W H Auden and Benjamin Britten
The plot thickens when ‘Benjy’ drops in on his former collaborator (they had a falling out years earlier), fretting about his new work, Death In Venice.
A play within a play, carefully directed by Philip Franks, it’s all set in a rehearsal room. Matthew Kelly is terrific as the grumpy old luv who plays Auden, as is David Yelland, who plays the fastidious Britten.
In attendance are the drama’s exasperated author and cast, their feathers smoothed by the company manager (Veronica Roberts, superb).
There are a few confusing patches but in the second half, when the pair movingly talk about their work, it’s as if you are actually eavesdropping on two great minds. A treat.
Theatre Royal Stratford East Until Sat, 2hrs
Nadia Fall’s first show as artistic director of Theatre Royal Stratford East is an adaptation of Lope de Vega’s 1619 Spanish drama Fuenteovejuna, transposed to modern India by April De Angelis. Plot-wise, it’s a fitting and illuminating update.
A village is terrorised by a corrupt police inspector; he’s there whipping up hatred between Hindus and Muslims ahead of an election.
He preys on local women, but one, 16-year-old Jyoti – in love with a Muslim – refuses to sleep with him, and is brutally raped. Jyoti’s fury stirs the village to rise up against injustice.
In The Village, a village is terrorised by a corrupt police inspector; he’s there whipping up hatred between Hindus and Muslims ahead of an election. Above: Anya Chalotra as Jyoti
If only De Angelis had been as bold updating the form: although written in a modern idiom, she follows the original in using rhyming verse. It’s not good, landing clunkily under Nadia Fall’s direction.
After a stiff start, the second half has a more energising vigour, including an abstract yet brilliantly visceral revenge scene.
Performances are a mixed bag, but Art Malik has a chilling smoothness as the inspector, while Anya Chalotra is first briskly unsentimental and then suitably fiery as Jyoti. Although her twitching, traumatised entrance after her assault is gut-churning, she refuses to be just a victim.
An uneven start to Fall’s reign, but there’s certainly a spark here.
Rebus: Long Shadows 2hrs 20mins
Birmingham Repertory Theatre Until Sat, touring until Nov 24
Crime thrillers don’t always make the best plays (though I believe there’s something called The Mousetrap that has done quite well).
Cosy Agatha Christies and even plays by Edgar Wallace are still creaking their away around regional theatres with their stock characters. Modern thrillers, though, are considerably more nuanced, but perhaps less theatre-friendly.
Take Ian Rankin’s dishevelled, often sozzled Scottish detective, well known from the TV series based on his books, in which he was played, first by a miscast John Hannah and then, more memorably, by Ken Stott.
Here we have a new story by Rankin and the Scottish playwright Rona Munro, involving the retired Rebus (Charles Lawson) and his former colleague Siobhan Clarke (Cathy Tyson)
Here we have a new story by Rankin and the Scottish playwright Rona Munro, involving the retired Rebus, his former colleague Siobhan Clarke (Cathy Tyson), now a DI, and one of those cold cases that reveal a cover-up and Rebus’s old nemesis, Big Ger Cafferty (John Stahl, all smooth villainy).
Rankin’s riveting novels are renowned for their detail, social issues – there are brief nods both to domestic violence and what constitutes justice – though especially the Edinburgh setting, a character in itself. A stark, noir-ish set doesn’t quite cut it here in that respect.
Rebus is an iconic figure for crime aficionados but you wouldn’t get that from Robin Lefevre’s uninvolving production. Above: Eleanor House as Heather
The inevitably reduced plot, too, is less than compelling, until the final confrontation between Cafferty and Rebus (Charles Lawson, best known as Jim McDonald from Coronation Street, who captures the detective’s weary cynicism).
Rebus is an iconic figure for crime aficionados but you wouldn’t get that from Robin Lefevre’s uninvolving production, which has accents as thick as Scott’s porridge and a tale that is, sadly, no page-turner.
Royal Court, London Until Oct 20, 1hr 25mins
We’re sitting in a petrified forest. In a shack, a woman (Lesley Sharp) in a mud-spattered nightie talks of what may be a cataclysmic event – blackouts and sounds suggest a fire, storm or landslide.
She talks in a rambling manner, her accent switching between Deep South and British. Then a creepy chap in a yellow tracksuit and white slip-ons appears, calling her ‘Momma’.
We’re sitting in a petrified forest. In a shack, a woman (Lesley Sharp, above with Tom Mothersdale) in a mud-spattered nightie talks of what may be a cataclysmic event
What is Robert Alan Evans’s play all about? It becomes apparent that the woods in question may be the stormy mental landscape of the woman, who has seemingly done something terrible and suffered a breakdown, or post-natal depression – we get flashes to a suburban galley kitchen and the sound of a baby crying though a monitor.
Lucy Morrison’s production is not an easy watch, but Lesley Sharp is truly compelling.