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. Continue reading

Review: The Hothouse at Trafalgar Studios (starring Simon Russell Beale and John Simm)

John Simm, Simon Russell Beale, Harry Melling, promotional photo for The Hothouse. Photo Jay Brooks

John Simm, Simon Russell Beale, Harry Melling, promotional photo for The Hothouse. Photo Jay Brooks

When the cast was announced for Harold Pinter’s The Hothouse at the Trafalgar Studios, my immediate reaction was delighted disbelief: the headline (and the poster) can only accommodate two stars, but make no mistake, any of the five principal actors would get top billing in another production. They just happen to be on the same ensemble piece, and the challenge for director Jamie Lloyd (who must have worked true magic to assemble such a cast) was not to squander their talent. On this evidence, there was nothing to fear.

Pinter’s play as directed by Lloyd is a comedy with such hellish vibe that could easily be one’s worst nightmare. On Christmas day five characters rattle around a mental institution, dark secrets, hidden motives and increasingly disturbed behaviour oozing through their pores like sweat. These are merely the staff. In fact we never see any of the patients who, when referenced, seem balanced and compassionate. The staff, it’s a different story. This is a furnace of a production: not only due to the reference of the title but also because of the hermetically sealed environment. These characters live inside the pressure cooker, long string of words (that shouldn’t make sense but they do in a disturbingly funny way) delivered with the violence of steam escaping. No one sees in, they can’t see out. It’s chilling, scary, funny and chilling again. On a loop. Continue reading