Marc Brenner

Jamie Lloyd directs a talented cast through a substantial body of Harold Pinter’s work, comprising two short plays and nine sketches.

For those unfamiliar, Pinter at the Pinter is a unique season bringing together all 20 of the playwright’s one-act plays at the Harold Pinter theatre. Pinter Three opens with his 1969 play Landscape and closes with A Kind of Alaska from 1982; interspersed in-between are nine short sketches spanning 1959-2006. It’s an eclectic collection of his work and is undoubtedly an unusual and varied programme, but one which flows surprisingly well.

Landscape is a challenging opener. It explores the difficulties of communication between two people; while Beth (Tamsin Greig) and Duff (Keith Allen) share the stage, and at times appear to directly address each other, neither appears to hear or respond to the other; it is delivered more like two monologues. Although she is referring to a man she fell for, and he is talking about his wife, it’s never made explicit whether or not they are talking about, or to, each other.

There isn’t a plot to speak of – nothing happens, they both just recount memories – but some interesting ideas are explored. Greig provides a handful of haunting, thoughtful observations while Allen adds some humorous one-liners.

A Kind of Alaska is similarly sombre but a very different proposition; Greig returns to the stage as Deborah – a role originally created for Judi Dench – who has awoken from a coma after 29 years and is struggling to comprehend that her life as a teenage girl no longer exists. She is exceptional in her childlike wonder, spending most of the play sitting up in bed in her nightie, in turn amazed and in denial about how much has changed. Allen returns as her doctor while Meera Syal impresses as her agonised, sympathetic sister.

The nine short sketches which fall between the two offer some much-needed comic relief. Lee Evans, returning from retirement, entertains in the amusing Monologue, in which he addresses an absent friend; there is a superb moment where he professes his adoration for the conversation that they are clearly not having. He reminds us of his knack for a comic facial expression in That’s All and drops some wonderful innuendo-laden quips during Trouble in the Works.

Completing tonight’s talented quintet of performers, Tom Edden is exceptionally funny in Girls, a protracted joke featuring a man who has read the opening of a story in a magazine and hypothesises at length about how it may or may not end. He also stars alongside Syal in Night, a short sketch about two older lovers who both amusingly struggle to recall how they met or what they did on their first date.

While the prospect of seeing 11 stories in one sitting may sound daunting, it all comes together surprisingly well. This is in part due to some excellent production – the music is superb throughout, including one very charming song sung almost a cappella by the cast, and the rotating stage is utilised effectively to rapidly create new and interesting spaces – and the quality of the acting. All five cast members seamlessly swap between their roles and each impresses in their own way.

Pinter Three sounds like a challenging evening out and certainly the two more substantial plays here have some difficult moments. It all comes together as a surprisingly cohesive and well-balanced package, however, thanks to the slick production values and talented all-star cast. Absolutely worth checking out.

Gay Times gives Pinter Three – ★★★★

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