By: Harold Pinter
Directed by: Roger Michell
Venue: Donmar Warehouse
Date: Thursday 12th July 2007
We’ve seen this play before, so I knew the general setup before it started. It’s basically the story of a love affair, told in reverse, with the final outcome shown first, and the start of the affair at the end. It’s an interesting structure, and means I have to pay attention even more.
With such an excellent cast – Sam West, Dervla Kirwan and Toby Stephens – I tried to keep my expectations low so as not to be disappointed. What I felt with this production was that the play is actually quite slight, that the reverse order is necessary to hide this fact, and that the interest is in the acting performances, which in this case were superb. Dervla as Emma came across as quite vulnerable at first, a person of refinement and sensitivity who rarely unleashes her emotions. In fact, she spends most of the play looking miserable, with only a short spell of actual happiness in the middle of the affair, and a sense of anticipation at the start (which we see at the end).
Toby Stephens as Jerry, Robert’s best friend who also sleeps with his wife, was wonderfully louche. He was stunned to find out that Robert had known about the affair for years, and was practically stalking Emma to get the affair started. Robert, played by Sam West, is rather prissy, wears velvet suits, and could come across as quite cruel at times. However, Steve reckoned his reported confession of his own affairs was a sham, designed to make it easier to end the marriage. I’m not so sure; it seemed to me he was simply concerned to keep his relationship with Jerry more than his marriage.
The set was fairly plain. There were long, lightweight curtains floating down from a track, and these were moved around, almost like a soft furnishing train set, not to create settings but to indicate the passage of time, usually in reverse. Bed, table and chairs were brought on and off as needed, often obscured by the curtains, and a range of years were projected onto the back wall and curtains as they moved. The year of each scene was clearly defined before it started.
Looking back, I find it hard to understand why Emma married Robert in the first place, but then that’s a natural part of other people’s relationships. I can’t fault anything with the performances, I just didn’t find this totally satisfying.
© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me