By Harold Pinter
Directed by Jamie Lloyd
Venue: Trafalgar Studio 1
Date: Thursday 18th July 2013
The heat definitely affected my enjoyment today, as the Trafalgar Studios simply don’t have air conditioning worth the name. And having experienced cinemas in Hong Kong where we had to wear a cardigan indoors because of the chill, there’s no excuse for the sort of heat we had to endure today. Of course, if it was difficult for us it must have been hell for the actors, especially with those suits, but at least they could get off stage from time to time to cool down, and with only forty-five minutes each way it was just bearable.
We’d seen this play before at the National, and while Steve preferred this version I was less happy with it. Despite being a great actor, Simon Russell Beale was gabbling his lines a lot, rushing to get through them, and Pinter’s lines need to be delivered with clarity and rhythm to achieve the best effect. The previous production did this brilliantly, while the lack of proper timing in today’s performance let it down somewhat. There were still plenty of laughs, and I felt that this production was treating the play simply as a comedy without exploring the atmosphere of menace. Having said that, the torture scene was very graphic which I found hard to watch; Harry Melling as Lamb was very believable during his electrocution sessions. Even so, the sense of menace wasn’t present for me and that’s an important part of this play.
I don’t remember how the previous production ended, but today they brought Lamb, the torturee, back up through a trapdoor, still strapped to the chair, after Gibbs had finished his interview with Lobb. Lamb sat there in the spotlight with the other two standing in the dark on either side, and after a short while the lights went out. Not the most satisfactory ending, but OK. The audience was very appreciative, and at last we could get out into the ‘fresh’ air.
The set was an improvement on last time (the Macbeth, that is). The walls had a pale green wash while the floor had blue and yellow tiled linoleum everywhere apart from a small section of pink and green at the back which represented the staff room. There were tall deco paned windows on either side and at the back behind the seating; a white light was coming through the side windows while the rear ones were dark. A spiral staircase back right went up into an unseen place above, while the double doors back left had the mandatory EXIT sign above them – ironic given the nature of institution in this play. A white coat was hanging on some hooks to the right of the staircase. There was an office desk on the left, a large padded bench seat at the front of the stage, and an armchair on the right, together with various tables, chairs, etc. This was Roote’s office. At the back of the stage were two other armchairs, quite far apart, with a table holding tea and coffee implements to the right of them. This was the staff room, indicated by the distinct linoleum and changed lighting.
The ceiling was a large, three-sided arch with integrated column shapes going all the way round like stone plumbing. There were actual pipes as well, and several strip lights hanging on long wires down from the ceiling but still well above the people. Apart from the tannoy speakers there was a large lamp and two boxes with trailing wires; these latter two items were lowered for the torture scene and I think the boxes and wires were removed afterwards. At the back of the arch was a wall with a painting of a woman on it. The picture was partly obscured by wear and tear, and gave the impression of a ghost haunting the place. There was a general air of neglect and grubbiness everywhere.
Our seats were roughly in the middle of the stalls a few rows back from the front. We were glad that we weren’t in the front two rows, or in the seats at the back, as these were just ordinary chairs, some with padded seats, many without. Not as comfortable as ours, but they may have been cooler.
Apart from the points mentioned, the performances were all fine. John Simm played a very prissy Gibbs, with glasses, slicked back hair and odd angular movements which did make him seem a bit creepy. Visually he reminded me of Gary Oldman as George Smiley, but not as cuddly. John Heffernan is another excellent actor and his Lush was pretty good, especially when he got three drinks thrown over him. Indira Varma was a wonderfully seductive Miss Cutts, and I saw her character as a portrayal of how women appear to men when they (the women) don’t have any power within society. Clive Rowe and Christopher Timothy hardly had anything to do but did it well.
I suspect that the production choices were again focused on the younger members of the audience, and the decision made to ignore the Soviet background to the play as being irrelevant to them. Fair enough; at some point most plays have to let go of their original setting and find a contemporary relevance, but given the talent on stage I would have liked a stronger interpretation based on more modern themes rather than a wordy comedy with strange dark moments. At least Pinter is still alive and kicking through these productions; long may that continue.
© 2013 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me