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A CurtainUp London Review
Sean Foley directs and his background is comedy rather than theatre direction of straight plays. What he goes for is speed and my first conclusion is that Pinter's work needs a slow build, dramatic tension and a sense of being stuck rather than these sketches which remind you that if you are not enjoying the content, another one will be along in a minute. My second conclusion is that Pinter's writing is very exactly written and needs to be underplayed and certainly under directed. Too often the acting seemed to be over the top, as in "Request Stop" where Geraldine McNulty plays the mad woman at the bus stop as a drunk, and "Tess" where Sally Phillips is overly animated as an upper class gel telling her sad life story. The writing of the sketches themselves seems not to have portent and only two of them, "Victoria Station" and "Night" succeed.
In "Victoria Station" Bill Bailey and Kevin Eldon deliver the radio conversation between a minicab controller and the evasive driver who infuriatingly refuses to answer the controller's questions. During this sketch we get a glimpse of what Pinter's writing can achieve in a short context. In "Night" Bill Bailey and Geraldine McNulty act as a middle aged couple both of whom has completely different reminiscences of their courtship so that they discuss the same events with no common memories. The role of the woman was originally created by Pinter's luminescent actress wife, Vivien Merchant, a decade before he left her and she drank herself to an early death from cirrhosis of the liver. "Apart From That" is about two people in a hospital who doggedly resist mentioning the ailment that has resulted in the woman being in traction and the man walking around with a drip on a stand. What is most interesting about this sketch is that Pinter wrote it to perform himself with his non-actress wife Antonia Fraser in 2006.
The set has a backdrop of the sketch titles, like tiles which flash through until alighting at the title of the one being performed that's distracting and pointless. Many of the pieces seem dated and unfunny. Most were written before the heady days of Beyond the Fringe and 1960s satire, before the extempore comedy, the new Rock 'n Roll of the 1980s. Pinter's People seems like a sad waste of talent. Pinter's 1957 play The Dumb Waiter opens next week at the Trafalgar Studios and Sheffield Theatres' production of The Caretaker with David Bradley comes to the Tricycle Theatre in March. Now those productions have a chance of being sublime.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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