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Pinter Three and Pinter Four
Harold Pinter Theatre, London
BURSTING with poetic vision and merciless observation of human reality, Pinter Three parades the writer at his comic best, with Soutra Gilmour’s revolving set — a drab living space with peeling wallpaper — exactly capturing his sense of timeless misery.
In Landscape, a dowdy woman (Tamsin Greig) shares, in luminous colours, the memories that save her from a bleak and cheerless present while her husband (a fittingly boorish Keith Allen) falls back on the prosaic and banal. It’s like walking off the street straight into TS Eliot’s The Wasteland and feels as seminal.
The next three pieces, Apart from That, Girls and That’s All, are tear-jerkingly funny. They make spectacular use of comedian Lee Evans, whose casting throughout is a stroke of genius, and bring us Tom Edden as a hilarious stand-up.
God’s District follows with a gleeful poke at the smug Christian evangelical, played with duplicitous fervour by Meera Syal, and Evans brings the house down with Monologue in which he holds an immaculately crafted conversation with a man who isn’t there.
A gloriously comic view of two men in a bar (Evans and Edden) follows and is succeeded by witty monologue Special Offer and the definitive Trouble in the Works — a nostalgic, if side-splitting, pastiche of collective bargaining in safer times when jobs were secure and workers had a voice, while Night, with Edden and Syal, revisits the poetry of memory.
The programme peaks, though, with A Kind of Alaska in which a woman wakes from a 29-year sleep, struggling to make sense of her scrambled brain. Between her and the doctor who has cared for her emerges a deeply moving and unspoken tragedy and to say that Tamsin Greig excels is an understatement. In this confusion of memory and dreams, the mastery of a Samuel Beckett is palpable.
Pinter Four, quite different, is sombre and disturbing, with its two plays aimed rather at the Pinter diehards than at a mass audience. Moonlight, the darker, shows a man (Robert Glenister) on his death bed while his sons (Al Weaver and Duane Walcott) plough their own criminal furrow and his daughter (Isis Hainsworth) inhabits her own disconnected world.
Night School, originally written for TV, is a sleazy account of a young man’s return from prison only to find that his aunts have let out his room. The seeping misery of both pieces unfolds in Pinter’s vision of a fundamentally cheerless world but they're delivered with chiselled precision and wit.
Together, directors Jamie Lloyd (Three), Lyndsey Turner (Moonlight) and Ed Stambollouian (Night School) lay bare Pinter’s mantra that in company we are alone and in close company even more alone.
The productions, sometimes supremely entertaining, sometimes deeply disquieting are a faithful and penetrating insight into this master of style and words.
But while Pinter Four is an outing for the enthusiasts, Pinter Three is perfection in anyone's book.
Runs until December 8, box office: pinteratthepinter.com
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