Paul T Davies reviews Pinter Two comprising The Lover and The Collection now playing at the Harold Pinter Theatre as part of the Pinter at the Pinter season.
Harold Pinter Theatre, London.
27 September 2018
In contrast to the explicit political collection of Pinter One, the second production pairs two one act plays that explore issues of infidelity, role playing, identify and personal politics. In The Lover and The Collection, marriages and relationships are put under a forensic examination of the structures and roles we create to continue with life, and how a story, fake or true, can cause ripples in those relationships that threaten to build and drown whatever love may still exist. It’s a much lighter evening than Pinter One, but Jamie Lloyd’s direction is broader, and in places played too much for laughs.
In The Lover, Richard and Sarah appear to be a nice, ordinary middle class couple, we meet them at breakfast time as he is about to go to work. Yet he asks her if her lover is coming round that day, and she informs him that he is, so she would be grateful if he doesn’t come home early. Of course, Richard is her lover, playing a variety of roles to spice up their relationship. It’s very much a piece of its time, abounding with double entendes, and the acting by John Macmillan and Hayley Squires is camp and broad, and, performed on a pink set, we are encouraged to not take any of this seriously. Russell Tovey crops up as a saucy seaside postcard Milkman, offering Sarah “cream” like her neighbour has had. It’s entertaining and amusing, but with little distinction made between the married couple and the “illicit” couple, it feels like a slight piece, it’s only when Richard wants to stop the role playing that love, and the tenderness, in their relationship, begins to come through.
The stronger piece is The Collection, not least because Tovey, one of the best reasons to attend theatre these days, has a larger role, that of Bill, and he is matched with a show stealing David Suchet as his partner Harry. This is not made explicit in the text, but high camp is the chosen performance mode here, and they get away with it because the actors are thoroughly enjoying themselves! Only Suchet could bring the house down simply by announcing he is going to have a shave. I couldn’t help thinking he was playing a cheeky homage to Olivier!) The other couple are James, (Macmillan) and Stella (Squires), and the two couples are connected by an accusation made by James that Bill had sex with Stella whilst on a work event in Leeds. Given how camp Bill is, this seems unlikely, but then the sexual tension is racked up further when Bill and James begin flirting. Suchet is excellent at demonstrating that Harry holds all the power, and Squires is beautiful as the woman who remains the only one of the four that ultimately knows the truth.
Originally a TV play, the production captures perfectly the 1960s “Play For Today” genre in its music and staging, and our current gay sensibilities of camp and gender fluidity provide an interesting perspective on this text. It provokes a lot of laughs, and I suspect will be very much the audience pleaser of the Pinter sequence, even though both pieces seem a little lacking in depth now.
Until 20 October 2018