Howard Panter for the Ambassador Theatre Group, Tulchin/Bartner and Sweet Pea Productions
The Lover and The Collection
Photo by Alistair Muir
by Harold Pinter
Directed by Jamie Lloyd
15 January – 03 May, 2008
A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!
These two one act plays: The Lover and The Collection, written in 1963 and 1961 respectively by British Nobel Prize winning playwright Harold Pinter, receive a stylishly retro look airing for this production. Both focus on Pinter’s explorations of one of his oft examined universal themes - the games people play, specifically, in the context of these two plays, those involving men and women.
The opening sequence of The Lover is rather chilling: two middle class suburbanites discussing one another’s adultery in as blasé a fashion as if it were merely a conversation about what they’d like spread on their scones at teatime. It’s a bit like Brief Encounter without briefs – word-wise, that is, as the actors are fully and often rather elegantly clothed throughout. The notion of two such middle class luvies being so blasé about dirty afternoons apart from one another allegedly, in the company of others for the sole purpose of requited lust, in and of itself makes the initial sequences of this play somewhat laughable, and sporadic chuckles could be heard emanating from the audience. Pinter of course, has always been a master of such turnarounds and seemingly, has also, always excelled at turning the mirror on the audience, as these two plays are rather early ones, having been penned in the sixties, pre-‘Swinging’ London. Nervous laughter and/or extracting buried contempt towards ‘types’ based on class within the context of his characters attitudes and inflections would seem to have always been the playwright’s stock in trade as well.
Richard Coyle as Richard and Gina McKee as slinky Sarah make the most of Pinter’s inadvertently caustic dialogue in The Lover, toying with one another seemingly, to the point of no return, whilst convincingly pulling the wool over the audience’s eyes as to what their character’s actual intents and intentions are. The humour in this play stems nearly as much from its physicality as from its plot twists and both actor and actress are up to the challenges presented. Charlie Cox appears briefly on the scene as stereo-typically accented wide-boy milkman John who can’t imagine why the lady of the house doesn’t want any cream when the woman down the road had three tubs full. Hats off to Pinter for creating such high glossed havoc within the context of this play that it is difficult to tell at the best of times whether he’s written the play to be played as played or played with the writing until it has been underwritten enough to afford whoever the director is, in this case, Jamie Lloyd, a wide enough berth to allow for somewhat more contemporary interpretations. As is always the case with Pinter’s work, ‘the play’s the thing’ in that the interpreters of his theatrical explorations tend to be relegated to the backseat while the focal point – the writing, steers the course. For the most part, Director Jamie Lloyd successfully manages to allow the writing to take the precedence necessary, though, at times, he veers dangerously close to overshadowing the play itself through misguided attempts to infuse the work with a little too much of a cutting edge spin. However, for me, The Lover was definitely the more successful of the two plays.
The Collection, on the other hand, seemed to be misguided almost from the outset, as confusion set in regarding the use of the somewhat overused technique of having a character from a parallel storyline on the stage, in the scene, at the same time as characters from the current thread are interacting. There was no indication to the audience that Richard Coyle was, in this case, not actually part of the scene being watched, rather, onlookers were forced to click onto that abstract notion further along in the play, which, from where I was sitting, lead to all kinds of misinterpretations, with one person whispering in another’s ear, and shoulders shrugging in response all the way down the row! Perhaps dimmed lighting over where Mr. Coyle was seated might have indicated that he wasn’t meant to be part of that scene, as the fact that he was engaged in similar activities as Timothy West and Charlie Cox, such as reading newspapers and smoking in full light alongside of them, gave no indication that he was not meant to be part of the action. Mass confusion deepened when Coyle got up from the sofa, put on his coat, walked out the front door of the living room set and telephoned one of the characters! By the time this type of misleading scene had occurred for a second or third time, I’m afraid that it appeared as though I wasn’t the only viewer who wasn’t sure who was who or, what was what, and frankly my dear, didn’t really give a damn! Confidence wasn’t strengthened by the fact that the play itself has a very thin premise stemming from the fact that people often tend to tell lies, for whatever reason. So, despite the fact that Timothy West and Charlie Cox in particular in this case, acquitted themselves well as Henry and Bill respectively, the experience of watching The Collection was, in my case, and seemingly, that of many audience members around me, a singularly frustrating one.
Photo by Alistair Muir
Soutra Gilmour’s set design featuring solid wooden furnishings and black industrial style walls indicated the concreteness of the couple’s middle-class lifestyle in The Lover and the addition of a staircase and vintage telephone box for The Collection indicated that for the second half of the production, we were in a very different space. Music and Sound Design by Ben and Max Ringham was almost too slick and jazzy for the period.
The Lover and The Collection is a mixed bag of theatrical tricks and treats, with the first half being the more seasoned and palatable of the two. Despite some fine acting from all of the players and, especially in the case of the first play, firmly competent directing, sadly, this Pinter duo isn’t all it might have been.
Comedy Theatre, Panton Street, London SW1 4DN
Mon. – Sat. 7:30pm
Wed and Sat. matinees 2:30pm
Box Office 0870 060 6637
Ticket Prices: £45, £40, £35 & £20
Book online at www.theambassadors.com
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