To mark the ten-year anniversary of the eponymous Harold Pinter’s death, director Jamie Lloyd and his company have been performing their hugely ambitious “Pinter at the Pinter” season, which began last September. Directed primarily by Lloyd, the season consists of all of Pinter’s one-act plays starring more big-name actors than you can shake a stick at. Their sixth instalment includes “Party Time” and “Celebration”, which seem to me like the same play with different accents.
Starring Ron Cook, Celia Imrie, and John Simm among others, there is obvious talent in the cast, but that is difficult to see through the monotonous direction. Given all the attendants at the party in the first piece were donned in black I assumed it was a funeral, but no, it’s a strange, unspecified soiree hosted by Phil Davis’s character. He’s credited as Gary in the programme, but that’s neither here nor there since none of them have any character whatsoever. I don’t say that to be cruel, it was clearly intended to make them vacuous, lifeless representations of the upper class. How do we know they’re upper class? They bang on about a fancy members-only club they attend/own.
It becomes tiresome quickly. The 30-minute piece is structured so you hear snippets of conversations, as you would encounter if you just wandered around a party overhearing the dialogue. It’s an interesting concept, especially since the characters we encounter are as bland as many we meet at formal gatherings, but pardon my saying it is not very theatrical. There’s no drive to the conversations; a necessity to entertainment even if it isn’t to party chit-chat. The real issue is the staging though. Positioned in the middle of the stage is a shadowy box where shadowy figures sit on chairs at the front, before two or three of them stand up and start talking, lined up, and seldom looking at each other as they do. It’s such an uninspiring stage image that you can’t help but mourn the wasted space.
The second piece, Celebration, holds more promise, with a vibrant yellow and blue colour scene, and harsh cockney accents. Split between a tense date between Simm’s Russel and Katherine Kingsley’s Suki, and an anniversary celebration for Cook’s Lambert and Tracy-Ann Oberman’s Julie, where their respective siblings, who are themselves married, are with them. Drinks are drunk, insults are hurled, and a name-dropping waiter played by Abraham Popoola makes random interjections about his grandfather’s many famous connections. Granted, it’s as aimless as its predecessor, but at least a bit more lively with more interesting characters. Simm and Cook give entertaining performances, and at one point the set spun (which, being more accustomed to Fringe and black-box theatre, I found childishly exciting).
Of course it’s easy to see themes about class, power and patriarchy, and earnestly-delivered lines such as “I was my children’s mother” are amusing. The flaw with both is that they merely mimic real life. Take Eleanor Matsuura’s character in “Party Time”. Whenever she speaks, she is called a slut and threatened with being spanked by her husband and the host of the party. It’s uncomfortably exaggerated but doesn’t go anywhere. It’s feminism for the incurably pessimistic. The bigger issue though, as far as I’m concerned, is a reflection on West-End Theatre as a whole when it comes to class. Who exactly is seeing these shorts? London’s wealthy upper-middle class, primarily, and “Pinter Six” plays knowingly to an audience who will attend member’s only clubs and dine lavishly for their anniversaries, and maybe go to a play afterwards. Consequently, it has no bravery.
There’s only so much you can do to laugh at the bourgeoisie when that’s exactly who you are playing to, there’s only so much you can do to ridicule the patriarchy when you make no attempt to combat it. It’s a show that wants to have its cake and eat it, and perhaps that is down to a writing style that I have yet to grasp but I found both shorts to be wealthy in subtlety, but poor in depth. If you are well-studied in Pinter’s work, perhaps this will appeal. On the whole though, this is not the kind of event that has your guests talking about it for years afterwards. Two stars.
Whispers from the crowd:
“What was the point? That arseholes rule the world?”