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THE BRAINCHILD of Jamie Lloyd, the ongoing Pinter at the Pinter season at the Harold Pinter Theatre commemorates the playwright’s death 10 years ago with seven different compilations of his one-act plays and monologues. Packed with actors at the top of their game, it's a theatrefest to make the heart sing.
Not only does it showcase Pinter’s range through comedy, anger and political satire to the poignantly personal, raw, violent and prescient, it is also a landmark in the history of theatre craft — a seismic shift from linear narrative to the kind of drama where the fragile construct of words often disguises real character complexity.
Tamsin Greig in Landscape and A Kind of Alaska, Lee Evans in Trouble at the Works and David Suchet and Russell Tovey in The Collection all give supreme and defining performances, while Anthony Sher in One for the Road is truly great. Pinter Five, Six and Seven are still to come.
In a different vein, but still startlingly original, were two plays by Martin McDonagh, The Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Noel Coward Theatre and A Very Very Very Dark Matter at the Bridge.
Both are darkly comic, gruesome and excessively over the top and both resist simple sensationalism with deeply intelligent, serious themes and wonderfully crafted comedy. In the first, Aidan Turner is superb as he oozes charm, even when mercilessly threatening and torturing his nearest and dearest in the name of Irish nationalism.
In the second, terrible hypocrisy and unfettered sadism are seen to mask shameful historical events in the 19th century. A Very Very Very Dark Matter exposes the uncomfortable truth that, in making icons of figures such as Hans Christian Andersen and Charles Dickens, we're also condoning the inhuman treatment of Africans, resulting in the genocide of the Belgian Congo, where 10 million people died.
The messages in both plays are clear and, in both, the joy stems from the characters’ obliviousness to their own absurdity.
This year has also seen plays recounting inside stories of a diverse range of cultures and ethnic groups in theatre defying complacent tribalism. Forgotten by Daniel York Loh at the Arcola about the 140,000 Chinese labourers who fought for the French and English in WWI is one such, another is ear for eye by debbie tucker green at the Royal Court which unites its audience in the vivid but almost indescribable experience of being black.
All these productions have been thrilling to watch, hugely entertaining, memorable and mind-changing. When you also include Ian McKellen’s King Lear and Anthony and Cleopatra at the National with those above, it’s been a great year — at least in the theatre.
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