If you didn’t know that you were at The Harold Pinter Theatre to see ‘Pinter Two’, a double bill of Harold Pinter one-scene plays, the monolithic stage curtain resembling a tombstone for PINTER would certainly inform you of that fact. With this introduction, this staging of The Lover and The Collection throws itself emphatically into everything for which Pinter is known best. It is entirely bizarre, uncomfortable and filled with silences.
It is clear why these two plays have been chosen to be performed together. Both are wonderful, unsettling examples of the frailty of reality, particularly within interpersonal relationships.
The Lover opens with a husband asking his wife with only upbeat intrigue, ‘Is your lover coming today?’. Through its twists and pauses, the play delicately paints a portrait of the equilibrium of roles between a couple. The bright pink set, with flush doors, a fold-down bar and an art deco sunburst clock, feels eerily impersonal; the role of costume further stands out in the space. The stage curtain remains half-closed, leaving it feeling like a sitcom on a screen but without the canned laughter, just a little disquieting.
The couple played by Macmillan and Squires make for an equally uncomfortable centrepiece of the performance. As the single act develops, the depth of unexpressed tension existing between these two characters becomes clear, and as it comes to a climax, with their increasingly manic attempts through stilted pauses to find stability, it is difficult not to shift a little uncomfortably in your seat through the laughter.
Still ruminating over unsettling questions after the interval, we are projected into a classy, posh London; two houses, one in Belgravia, one in Chelsea, coexist on the stage with only one connection point: a black rotary phone. Communication, or more precisely incommunicability, is the underpinning theme in The Collection. An affair, a woman’s pride, a hotel room, sexuality, and boredom are the ingredients of this explosive story, whose captivating narration, witty humour, and continuous innuendos successfully analyse the intricacy of human relations. Written in 1962, this play remains scarily relevant today. No true feeling is ever explicitly expressed, and characters regularly refuse to state the crude reality of facts. What results is a hilarious comedy of errors. Unlike The Lover, the dialogue here is often as playful and energetic as it is witty, and David Suchet and Russell Tovey are outstanding as they join Macmillan and Squires for a four-person act.
The Collection, though just as full of pauses as The Lover, also has its fair share of longer speeches, and Suchet’s silk-robed Harry hurls lines with vivacity. Suchet shows extraordinary control of diction, and, at the same time, showcases Pinter’s ability as writer. Throughout the performance, this character’s speeches are mesmerising and complex. On the other hand, Harry’s housemate Bill, played by Tovey, is young, quippy and short. Caught somewhere between an adolescent pushing boundaries and an adult fully aware of his allure (in the original script, the age gap between these characters is smaller than between Suchet and Tovey, and the choice to ignore that is exploited to great effect), the play revolves around those impacted by Bill’s carelessness. Tovey stretches each action to its maximum, with perfect awareness of his physical presence. The end result is a play dripping, in every aspect, with overt and covert eroticism.
The ‘Pinter at the Pinter’ is more than a commemorative season of one-act plays; it is a unique opportunity to delve into the fascinating mind of this beloved playwright. Starting now until February, the theatre hosts seven ‘parts’ or different shows, covering a total of 19 of Pinter’s plays, all performed by undoubtedly talented and well-known actors. The quality of direction and the creative team meet that of the cast. The Jamie Lloyd Company, thanks to the actors’ personal twists and liberties, does a distinguished job, doing justice to the complicated analysis which the London writer carried out throughout his work. In Pinter Two we see how a high-level script is complemented by incredible technical work: from the usage of lighting in The Collection to create levels on stage, to that pink set, to the prop choices, these details play a fundamental role in both stories. An honourable mention has to go to the director Jamie Lloyd himself for his skill in preserving and, many times, highlighting the scenic details so dear to Harold Pinter. As expected, the cast is nothing less than exceptional: they are able to convey emotions in such a unique and passionate way that it’s impossible to remain unmoved by their characters. Our advice: run to the Harold Pinter Theatre and grab a seat, you won’t be let down by this sensational show!