Review: Harold Pinter shorts at Trafalgar studios, with Andrew Scott and Joanna Lumley

Pinter shorts reviewOne of the interesting aspects of the Jamie Lloyd season at the Trafalgar studios is the additional events running alongside each production: for Macbeth, one-off readings of Scottish plays were performed. With The Hothouse, there is a series of talks and the performance of two Harold Pinter radio plays in front of an audience. When actors such as Andrew Scott, Joanna Lumley and Alun Armstrong are involved, it’s not hard to imagine keen interest. Indeed, there was a full house on Saturday afternoon for the last of three performances of two Pinter shorts, Family Voices and Victoria Station.

I make no secret that I love readings. Some times readings will free performers in ways a production can’t. At Trafalgar studios, in a large and sprawling auditorium, the performance consisted of nothing more than the actors in front of the microphone and a sound technician in a console at Roote’s desk. (We joked beforehand how versatile that desk is). Pinter’s language, with no production to back it up, or rather get in the way, shone for its poetry, double-edged humour, clarity and the sheer delight of the perfect combination of words in any one sentence.

Family Voices is a play of three people trying to communicate with each other, only for the words, meanings and messages to skid off course at the last moment. Andrew Scott, singularly adept at communicating barely controlled horror, talks fast and performs the words as a (failed) attempt to sooth the character’s hysteria. Passages, such the one below, are a mantra and a tongue twister and a very funny punchline, all at once.

“I have some very pleasant baths in the bathroom. So does everybody else in the house. They all lie quite naked in the bath and have very pleasant baths indeed. All the people in the house go about saying what a superb bath and bathroom the one we share is”.

Joanna Lumley is controlled with an aftertaste of sadness. Alun Armstrong’s character is measured and self aware, but only because he is dead. The problem is, the living don’t communicate any better than the dead.

Victoria Station starts with Alun Armstrong’s controller, initiating a dry professional conversation, only to find himself in the middle of an existential crisis (his own). Andrew Scott’s driver, low key, more absent when he talks than when he is not, accidentally leads him to confront his fears. Neither man knows how to communicate with themselves or each other.

Director Edward Stambollouian and cast had much enjoyment with the text and the richness of the language was clearly – and some times cheekily – communicated. Miscommunication was the theme of the plays but that didn’t extend to the audience, and the reaction at the curtain call reflected that. I hope the production team takes heart from such a response and the additional events continue in future productions.

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