REVIEW: Pinter One / Pinter Two (Harold Pinter Theatre) ★★★★

The Jamie Lloyd Company’s epochal season Pinter At The Pinter is making a lot of noise for a writer famed for his silences. Ten years on from Pinter’s death, the first two of seven servings of his complete one-act plays gave us a direct sense of his anger and shock value, and his under-regarded humour.

Directed by Jamie Lloyd, Act One of Pinter One is a stark and brutal sequence of five plays, two sketches and two poems from 1983 to 2002. Politicians spout callous rationalisations for their greed and complacency. Their orders are carried out by shady government men and semi-hinged soldiers, while women and children are buffeted from horror to horror with an extremely troubling yoking of victim and cause. In the violent and harrowing One For The Road, Antony Sher chills the blood as Nicolas, a prototypical Pinter villain, the urbanely smiling bully doing his work with a callous professionalism and not a little relish in arbitrary psychological games.

The shorts and sketches pack a nasty punch but Pinter’s smouldering atmosphere of enigmatic menace develops most characteristically in longer arcs. The two-hander Ashes to Ashes with Kate O’Flynn and Paape Essiedu, directed by Lia Williams, weaves a troubling spell with oppressive design and vulnerable performances, leading to mutual abjection in a mist of multiple meanings and complex patterning.

Pinter’s plays abound in darkly comic double acts, troubled couples and faltering love triangles. Pinter Two is a double bill of The Lover and The Collection, both from the early sixties and directed by Jamie Lloyd. The Lover begins as a garish sitcom that succumbs to the pain and frustration that drive the couple’s sex games. The Collection seethes with deadpan humour. Small talk is weaponised, with a pregnant banality that is both funny and darkly threatening at the same time. David Suchet takes a hilarious scene-stealing turn as a bitterly sardonic Kenneth Tynanesque queen, bringing the house down at the most seemingly ordinary remark. The set piece ‘slum/slug speech’ is an absolute peach.

Another highlight (from Pinter One) was The President and an officer, an undated sketch which was only discovered last year by Pinter’s widow Antonia Fraser, scribbled on a yellow notepad. It unnervingly predicts and captures the incompetence and braggadocio of Donald Trump. An unnamed president accidentally nukes London thinking it was Paris. Jon Culshaw gives a pitch-perfect picture perfect impersonation.

With four more instalments still to come there’s a lot to look forward to, with some stone cold Pinter classics including The Room and The Dumb Waiter, and performances from some big names including John Simm, Tamsin Grieg, Martin Freeman, and Mark Rylance. Directors include Patrick Marber and Lyndsey Turner. If the rest of the season matches up to the originality and clarity of vision of Pinter One and Two it should offer a landmark reappraisal of the range and contemporary resonance of Pinter’s work.

Review by AJ Dehany
Photo: Mark Brenner


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