Family Voices and Victoria Station

Harold Pinter’s two short plays make only rare appearances nowadays and yet they are rewarding pieces. Family Voices, broadcast as a radio play in 1981, was followed a year later by the premiere of Victoria Station at the National Theatre. They are classics in what has become known as the ‘comedy of menace’ genre, derived from the Theatre of the Absurd.

An honest barebones display of the power of language and the failure of communication

Both plays appear here in studio style. A trio and a duo of actors are seated on high stools. They fit neatly on the empty stage, the minimalism matching the paucity of plot that will ensue. Voice 1, Voice 2 and Voice 3 are mere vehicles for the text, forming the cast list of Family Voices, though in reality each has a more identifiable persona - a son, a mother and a dead husband/father.

The son, having left home, finds his new living arrangements challenging and informs his mother as much in a series of letters. The mother appears not to receive them and is furious with her son for not writing. The father is a latecomer to the scene who seemingly makes observations from the grave.

The theme of failed communication is furthered in the more humourous Victoria Station, even though the minicab controller at base engages in direct radio dialogue with driver number 247 who is in stationary in Crystal Palace by a park. Instructed to proceed to Victoria Station, the ludicrousness of what is to follow is kickstarted by the driver’s claim that he doesn’t know where it is. He is further handicapped by having a passenger on board who may or may not be dead but certainly isn’t moving. Tempers flare, confusion reigns, yet it ends on a somewhat sympathetic note.

In selecting these plays producer/director Christian Anthony has made a brave and demanding choice. With no set and no movement the actors have to engineer a piece of theatre from their seats using only voices, some gesture and strength of feelings. That Adam Goodbody, Beth Hindhaugh and Robbie Fraser pretty much manage to do just that indicates the extent of their performance skills. They are well matched by Tom Ames and Luke Cullen. With no distractions the text becomes paramount and in uniformly well-spoken, emotionally charged lines which individually create identifiable people and stay true to Pinter’s intentions.

The production is gratifying and intriguing; not gripping but an honest barebones display of the power of language and the failure of communication. It’s something of an academic piece but none the worse for that and the chance to hear both works performed so competently should be seized.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

A son bares his soul to a mother who cannot hear him; a taxi driver muses whilst his passenger sleeps. Harold Pinter explores love, sex and loneliness in this double bill of unnerving black comedies. Praise for Backspin’s previous shows: ‘A thrilling experience’ (Lady Antonia Fraser). ‘Backspin is bringing the work of Harold Pinter to the next generation’ (Penelope Wilton OBE, Downton Abbey). ‘Outstanding… I can’t wait to see this innovative company progress through the whole body of Pinter’s work’ (Plays International Magazine). ‘Believable, provoking Pinter' (ThreeWeeks).

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