Paul T Davies reviews Pinter Six now playing at The Harold Pinter Theatre as part of the Pinter at the Pinter Season.
Two dinner parties from Hell- or at least Hell is happening in the outside society. Pinter 6 is a double bill of social occasions that expose class and snobbery, performed by an outstanding ensemble. It’s no wonder so many excellent actors have appeared in this season, Pinter gives them so much to work with.
In Party Time, (1991), we are back with the highest echelons of society, an obviously highly esteemed level, but the participants have had to struggle through the streets, Dame Melissa, (Celia Imrie), complaining that she had to get through “something called a road block”. Whatever the social situation, one upmanship must be maintained by Terry, (John Simm), and Gavin, (Phil Davis), and oneupwomanship by Liz, (Katherine Kingsley) and Charlotte, (Tracy-Ann Obermann). Douglas, (Ron Cook) and Fred, (Gary Kemp), know how to rule the country, with an iron fist, and casual misogyny and sexism is firmly in place. This is a terrific ensemble, and Pinter often freezes the laughter in your mouth. At the time, he was still writing about the Hooray Henry’s of the Thatcher era, but their conversations are even more pertinent and chilling today. Throughout the play Dusty, Eleanor Matsuura, asks what has happened to her brother Jimmy, and she is closed down every time, as is every mention of death.
Throughout it all, in Jamie Lloyd’s stripped back version and Soutra Gilmour’s design, a door occasionally cracks open and a shaft of light breaks through. But it is not hope that breaks through the darkness, but the chained, shuffling bear of a man that is Jimmy, superbly played by Abraham Popoola, a bear of a man rounded up off the streets by the likes of Gavin. He is Caliban, chained in his own world by forces that can suppress him. The work presented in Pinter 1 provide a strong connection of political protest continued in this piece. It is also given huge context with an electronic version of Handel’s Saraban bringing to mind the classical electronics of the soundtrack of A Clockwork Orange.
Pinter’s final play, Celebration, (2000), was allegedly his response to the boorishness of a dinner party adjacent to his table at The Ivy, “the best and most expensive restaurant in London”, as it is billed in the play. (In fact The Ivy provide the tableware and crockery). Ironically, given as it was his last play, it’s the one I feel has aged most. Maybe it’s because TOWIE have long sat at the highest tables, so the shock value has lessened, and, in such a short play, there is very little character development, and their trashy behaviour has to be taken at face value. Again, the ensemble are terrific, especially Celia Imrie and Tracy-Anne Oberman as sisters Prue and Julie. Their bragging about sex and money are punctured by existentialist thoughts from the restaurateur Richard, (Gary Kemp), waitress Sonia, (Eleanor Matsuura), and especially the un-named Waiter. Here Abraham Popoola again steals the show, hilarious in his, (probably false), anecdotes about his grandfather, but, at the conclusion, making a boat of a table napkin and dreaming of escape, a tale of migration and exile.
The piece is shot through with excellent humour and one liners, and special mention must go to the wigs and costumes, a festival of big hair and gold sequins! Jamie Lloyd’s forensic direction gets the most out of every line, every pause and every beat of Pinter’s classic texts.