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A CurtainUp London Review
The Lover/ The Collection
Jamie Lloyd, who recently directed The Caretaker with a production which elicited previously unseen sympathetic depths within Pinter's bleakness, is certainly well-qualified to tackle these lesser-known plays, even if the material isn't quite of the same calibre. Dark power games, adultery, menacing comedy, deceit, fantasy and desire all feature in both— making them a suitable companion piece.
The Lover has a fairly simple premise exploring role-playing within the marital state. At first, there is much comedy from the juxtaposition of a well-to-do, thoroughly respectable married couple openly discussing their ongoing infidelity. Then, as the façade of easy-going, frank acceptance starts to crumble, there is the revelation that their adultery is pure fantasy and enacted with each other. Onstage, however, there is a clever ambiguity as to whether it is the actor or the character playing two parts: that of the husband and the lover.
Richard Coyle skilfully portrays the beginnings of fractured trust in his suited husband and Gina McKee has fabulous poise as his wife. The amazing Vivienne Merchant created the female roles in her husband Harold Pinter's plays and Gina McKee has something of her enigmatic quality. Obviously, this sort of scenario must have been vastly shocking when it first aired in 1963, although now it is difficult to see much quality beyond this historically avant-garde immorality.
With a similar emphasis on deception, infidelity and mistrust, the crux of The Collection centres around whether a woman has or has not been unfaithful to her husband. While the truth remains impenetrable, this act of supposed adultery unleashes a nexus of attraction and possession. Sinister relationship and power dynamics abound as Max (Richard Coyle) embarks on a persistent course of stalking after his wife's (Gina McKee) apparent confession. Timothy West as the well-to-do Harry is a territorial, charismatic sponsor of his protégé: the young, handsome if morally somewhat dubious Bill, played by Charlie Cox in an impressive West End debut. The modish 1960s set design by Soutra Gilmour simultaneously accommodates both the well-to-do Belgravia mansion and the more bohemian flat and cleverly alludes to the interconnectedness of the two couples.
Although these two short pieces make interesting curios, they are ultimately slightly unsatisfying, trifling and flimsy. The comedy and menace convince to a certain degree, but there is simply not enough depth to the situations and characters for significant emotional investment. No longer risqué, there little left to recommend the writing, except the fact that it bears Pinter's name. Although the production and cast were near-flawless, it is a shame that they had nothing of more substance to tackle.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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