By: Harold Pinter
Directed by: David Farr
Venue: Swan Theatre
Date: Tuesday 23rd August 2011
I was keen to see this play again. We’d seen it back in February 2008, and despite the nastiness of the characters, the language gave it tremendous power. I probably took longer to tune in to this production because of the memories of that earlier one, but by the second half I was well in.
The set was more open due to the nature of the Swan. The walkways at the front had been cut off to leave a square stage which held the sitting room. A red carpet sat in the middle of the floor, with a red comfy chair back left, a wooden chair back right with a small table beside it, and another wooden chair front right, facing across the front of the stage. There was a cupboard of some kind behind the other chairs, and a gap to the stairs and front door further back. The front door was on the left, while the stairs went from midway up to the right, and had a long sideboard in front of them. The kitchen was offstage back right, and we could hear the clattering of pots and plates when Sam was washing up. The stairs went up in two flights to the second balcony, and we could see when characters were coming down them. Beside the front door hung a number of garments, coats presumably, which seemed to be stained with blood. I took this to be a reminder of the butcher’s shop that Max owned. The blank bits at the start of each scene also had the sound of flies buzzing, which was another reminder. The stage would be dark at these times except for several strips of light along the edge of the stage and up above – I have no idea what this was meant to suggest.
The performance style was similar to the earlier production, but I felt there was a lot less menace in the atmosphere. This may be partly down to the audience, with plenty of laughter coming early on and throughout the first half which diluted the tension, making it more of a light comedy. I also found it hard to hear Jonathan Slinger at times, as he kept his voice relatively soft which meant it didn’t carry as much. As a result, I found the first half less interesting, and nearly nodded off a couple of times, but Ruth and Teddy’s arrival sorted that out.
The second half started with all the men lighting up cigars while Ruth hands round the coffee cups. This was very funny, seeing all these men smartly dressed in their suits because Ruth was there. I enjoyed this half much more, and I saw some different shades of meaning in the performance. For example, I realised that Ruth may actually want to get away from Teddy, and her choice to stay may be based on the power and freedom she feels she has with his family compared to the constraints of her roles as wife and mother with Teddy. She was certainly very snappy and demanding with the family, ordering them to fetch food and drinks – reminded me of the V queen – and she negotiated a very sweet deal to set herself up as a prostitute. I felt she was installed as queen of the household from the start of the second half – possibly earlier – whereas in the Almeida production that was delayed till the end. I hadn’t remembered Sam and Max collapsing towards the end, and again that suggested a shift in power to the new kid on the block.
Overall, I felt the language was delivered better in the Almeida production, but this one also had good performances, and was well worth seeing. We’re booked again, and I hope to get even more out it next time.
© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me