Friday, 21 December 2018

Theatre review: Pinter Six - Party Time / Celebration

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: This installment of Pinter at the Pinter hasn't invited the critics in yet.

I booked for all the Pinter at the Pinter shows before they'd been retitled to give each anthology a number, so I've ended up with Pinter Six before Pinter Five; as the season is (currently) due to conclude with Betrayal seeing some of it in reverse order seems apt enough. Jamie Lloyd directs the shortest double bill so far, starting with Party Time, which I couldn't help thinking of as what it would be like if Pinter had written The Masque of the Red Death, except the plague outside is all the partygoers' doing, and they're cheerfully set to make things a lot worse. Accordingly, the majority of the characters on stage may be laughing and drinking wine, but Soutra Gilmour's designs keep everything positively funereal, in all-black outfits and a torchlit black box set that could have come out of a vampire movie.

Terry (John Simm) is trying to convince Gavin (Phil Davis) to join his exclusive club; Dame Melissa (Celia Imrie) met all her best friends at swimming and tennis clubs just like it, but they're all dead now. Charlotte's (Tracy-Ann Oberman) husband is also dead, and Fred (Gary Kemp) probably shouldn't be asking her quite so many questions about how it happened. Outside is civil unrest that may have caused bad traffic on the way to the party, and only Terry's wife Dusty (Eleanor Matsuura) is bold enough to question their actions, even if it means her husband might murder her when they get home.

With its collection of characters fiddling while Rome burns and the strong suggestion of a brutal dictatorship whose elite we're watching on their down time, Party Time could have slotted into the bleak politics of Pinter One, although it feels a bit less of a blunt instrument than some of those pieces. Lloyd's production, which keeps the actors sitting down in a row and standing only when it's their scene, gives this a satisfying feel of a classic piece of Pinter menace.

Lighter but more obscure is Celebration after the interval, with Davis and Ron Cook as gangster brothers married to sisters (Imrie and Oberman vying for who's got the most outrageous wig,) celebrating one of the couples' anniversary at Richard's (Kemp) exclusive restaurant. It's a dining experience so good that Russell (Simm,) at a neighbouring table with wife Suki (Katherine Kingsley) can briefly forget he's a psychopath while he's there.

There's a lot of entertaining bickering and surreal behaviour, yet the diners are infinitely patient when Abraham Popoola's waiter constantly interrupts their meals with scene-stealingly odd rambles about the famous people his grandfather claimed to know. Eventually the two tables join together when Cook and Kingsley's characters realise they know each other (biblically,) and a further element of tension between the couples gets added. The two short plays provide an interesting contrast to each other, and while Celebration may be the more immediately entertaining, Party Time proves the deeper and more thought-provoking in the long term.

Pinter Six - Party Time / Celebration by Harold Pinter is booking in repertory until the 26th of January at the Harold Pinter Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes including interval.

Photo credit: Marc Brenner.

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