One for the Road...

In the early 1980s Pinter became increasingly interested in human rights abuses and in particular the torture of political prisoners in Argentina and Turkey. One For The Road emerged from those concerns, although it is deliberately given no specific national location; he believed such violations could occur as easily in democracies as dictatorships, although the common expression for another drink, used many times during the play and as the title, suggests an English-speaking background for the lead character.

An omen for those who oppose the regime: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

The set is a simple room, possibly the study of a house, with an office desk and chair, a sideboard with drinks tray and another lone chair. The ‘machine’ which Pinter instructed to be on the desk to communicate with other parts of the building is missing; Nicolas, a functionary of the state, simply shouts for detainees to be brought in. In its place is a sparkling stainless steel Newton’s cradle. It sits ominously and is cleverly suggestive. He resists the temptation to play with it, but instead steadies it from time to time when it is slightly disturbed by stage movements in a manner befitting someone with OCD. This embodiment of Newton's third law is an omen for those who oppose the regime: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Nicolas is immaculately dressed in a blue pin-striped suit, though lacks a tie, perhaps to appear more informal or because of the impending heat of dealing with his captives. From the outset he is agitated, his lips trembling in the manner of someone trying to maintain control of himself, attempting to steady his nerves with repeated glasses of whisky. Pinter gives no instructions on how the part is to be played. As with all interrogators there is the soft-spoken, falsely reassuring option or the louder, more aggressive approach. With more of the latter, Louis Hall‘s interpretation intertwines the two. Both styles instil fear and Hall, playing the man of words and mind games rather than physical violence, manages to be both threatening and eerily seductive. He leaves the brutal torture and bodily abuse to others offstage; we see only the visible, outward signs of what his detainees have endured. He, of course, reminds them of what they have suffered, often with a sense of relish, particularly when referring to sexual matters.

The play is dominated by Nicolas, but the three members of a family also appear though always individually. The ironically named Victor, the father, has little to say until pressured into speaking by Nicolas. Henry Deacy successfully sustains his role of a man beaten into submission and numbed by the horrors of his ordeal and the stories of his wife's repeated rape. Panda La Terriere plays Gila with calm resignation and helplessness, knowing their is no point in resisting or fighting the assaults. The honest innocence of their seven-year old son Nicky is captured by William Baxter who little realises his precarious position.

The action progresses smoothly, with moments of violin music from Alexander Terry, as per the script, building to its tragic ending. Pinter is quite clear as to how the play should finish. Following the last chilling line he directs ‘Silence. Blackout.’ His dark ending is deliberate and fits all that precedes it, leaving the audience to ponder on the fate that faces victims of oppressive regimes around the world. There is no reason to undermine Pinter’s intention by playing an instrumental version of The Peanut Vendor, particularly as the lyrics make specific reference to Cuba! This attempt at cheerfulness destroys the mood and represents an inexcusable error of judgment on the part of the company. Setting that gaffe aside the production is otherwise a chilling success.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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Performances

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The Blurb

‘Who would you prefer to be. Me or you?’ Harold Pinter explores the frailty and blindness of love in a world and a room run by madness, solitude and fear. Nicholas wants everything, everything all in one room. But you need to know what will be left at the end. How long will it all last? Sometimes it can be just one dance, one death or one drink that foretells what will be left when all the love goes. When everyone leaves.

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