Alongside Pinter One – nine individual texts that together create something that is as exciting as it is dark – is the altogether different, though not surprisingly named Pinter Two. Whilst there’s an argument to say both shows should be reviewed independently, the reality is that with the same author, director Jamie Lloyd and the hope to reach a diverse audience, the argument is a forced one. We naturally will draw comparisons and, no matter how hard we fight it or deny it, most of us will end up choosing a favourite. I imagine it’s the same as having children for some – so to use that cruel metaphor, I’m afraid that this made me pine for my eldest child, One, to return whilst I had been left to watch the pleasant but forgettable, Two…
Perfectly passable Pinter.
I don’t think it’s possible for more opposing pieces to have been chosen to play concurrently. Where Pinter One is awash with the blackness of souls, shadows and pain, in Pinter Two, The Lover is bright with pinks and chintz and The Collection replete with swooshing cloaks and aperitifs. It will be interesting to see how The Company have curated the remainder of the season and the impact on pieces when positioned against each other – especially given the care taken over the earlier running order. Here – in the belief that there’s no clever trickery to work out – it’s likely just the extremity of the opposing nature. If you like, it’s the dull lightness to the gleaming shade.
We jump back 50 years to a middle class, middle England for plays that will have been seen as risqué when originally shown on TV in the early 60s. They both feature an out of wedlock sexual affair as their central catalyst and so are inferring not only that people have sex together, but when not married, or when married to someone else, or when the same gender…. One can imagine many a curtain being drawn early in Surrey so the neighbours wouldn’t know the filth being watched on the Black and White!
But you only need to look back 10 years to see the last time these plays ran together in the West End. It was also at the same theatre (then known as The Comedy of course). And both boast a strong cast – then including Timothy West, Gina McKee and Charlie Cox (a wee thing then, The Daredevil now) and now the very similar aesthetic in David Suchet, Hayley Squires and Russell Tovey. If déjà vu isn’t yet settling in, a decade ago it was directed by a little known, talented chap called Jamie Lloyd. Reviews then were generally passable. Those involved then were clearly talented. But other than that, no one got very excited at all. I can’t say what has changed in the productions now, but I can say that the impact they have is exactly the same.
The affair at the heart of The Lover is the extra marital one of wife Sarah (Squires) who breakfasts with husband Richard (John Macmillan) in their pink kitchen – both cheery grins, smiley faces, sing song rhythm – and discuss what time the husband should return home so as not to interrupt her daytime dalliance. Later Richard admits that, whilst he has no mistress, he does have a cheap slutty whore. Very swinging 60s. Except it turns out that they are actually swinging with each other; the key word missing from the reality of the affairs is the extra in extra marital. Apparently, The Lover is either played as thriller or comedy – I can’t see why it couldn’t be both, as for laughs alone it is all a bit breathy, all a bit empty, with Macmillan in particular giving not much more than a well-timed delivery.
The Collection is better. Mainly because there is more fun being shared with its theatricality as the two homes of its setting share the same space – creating sightlines of both couples together when not, playfully mirroring and overlapping each other. It’s like watching a balletic chess game as they move around each other to uncover the truth about this affair. Which may or may not have happened but has been ‘admitted’ by Stella to husband James (Squires and Macmillan again). And allegedly it was with the neighbouring slum-boy-stud Bill (a suitably self-aware Tovey) who enjoys the spoils that his looks give him living with dirty old man / camp lethario Harry (who Suchet is clearly finding delicious to play every moment.) Much talent makes this worthy.
It’s interesting to note that in 2008, Charles Spencer wrote The Telepraph that he thought “Lloyd... might share… my reservations about these ultimately unsatisfying minor works. There is a glossy sheen… that suggests a director who doesn't have complete confidence in his chosen works”. Lloyd clearly has confidence enough to repeat them. Perhaps his point just isn’t quite coming across for a change.
It’s harmless nostalgia that might have been lifted right out of the TV sets, dusted off a bit, and reenacted. They don’t bore at all. But neither do they create any energy. But you just need to look at ratings for an old episode of, say, Only Fools and Horses to know there’s clearly enjoyment to be had for many by sitting back, watching and reminiscing about better times, better jokes. Calling them classics rather than repeats. Laughing a bit harder than the jokes really deserve. All pleasant and all good fun. Perfectly passable Pinter.