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An Evening of Harold Pinter

Review by Craig Lewis

 

If a venue could ever be said to echo the ability of Harold Pinter to transform something seemingly normal into something extra special, it’s the Madcap Theatre in Wolverton.

 

Shunning the pristinely decorated comforts of watching the latest soap reject performing at Milton Keynes Theatre, Madcap’s dilapidated surrounds champion more austere shows.

 

And it makes a pleasent change to leave behind the city centre’s commercially minded offerings and enjoy a night with the stars of Madcap.

 

This week saw the Peppersghost Theatre Company grace the boards with An Evening of Harold Pinter.

 

Played out over two halves the show started with four of the playwrights short comedies, Last to Go, Black and White, Night and Request Stop.

 

That first set was stolen by an inspired performance by Izzy Pryor as the lady at the bus stop in Request Stop.

 

Anyone who has ever felt uncomfortable in the face of an all too public row will have recognised this scene – and not failed to laugh.

 

The break was followed by the main event, a performance of Pinter’s classic 1957 one-act play The Dumb Waiter.

 

The show features just two protagonists, Ben (played by Andrew Davis) and Gus (Joe Seville); hitmen staying in a dingy basement room to await their next job.

 

Exploring the uneasy interaction between the two, the near hour long performance combines comedy and menace.

 

The pair waste the time before their next hit by commentating on newspaper reports (they condemn the killing of a cat while ignoring the fact they deal in death themselves), annoying each other with their own little habits and coming to blows over the semantics of lighting the kettle.

 

But the focus of the scene is the dumb waiter which sends messages for extraordinary food orders down to the pair who can only respond with an unusual mixture of tea bags, milk, an Eccles cake and some biscuits.

 

Crammed into the Madcap the audience was tight to the stage and the performance swung from taught to comedic at breakneck speed.

 

Peppersghost’s stars coped admirably with the script, with both actors putting in convincing performances.

 

Given the complexities of Pinter’s characterisation and their amateur status, these were first class performances.

 

A few moments of confused laughter at moments supposed to portray menace suggested all the nuances hadn’t quite been mastered, but this was Pinter not Britain’s Got Talent.

 

In a city where flying cars, clairvoyants and tap dancing Irishmen usually hog the theatrical limelight it was nice to see a space for the good old fashioned play.

 

Madcap and Peppersghost should be praised to the theatre’s antiquated rafters for that.

 

An Evening of Harold Pinter

 

17th April 2010 Madcap Theatre

 

Review by Matthew Taylor

 

Enter Matthew, with his reviewing hat on)

 

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I must admit, despite being a big fan of Pinter I’m not so familiar with his shorts.

 

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I mean his short plays. I am not so familiar with them. I must admit that.

 

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“The Dumb Waiter” I know. That one I do know. I have had previous, as the saying goes. But the shorts?

 

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No. No, I’m not so familiar with those.

 

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Which is why it was a proper old treat to see that the latest Pepper’s Ghost showcase was a double bill of a selection of these short sketches (three from right near the start of Pinter’s writing life in 1959, one from 1969) and his brilliant brilliant one-act “The Dumb Waiter”, one of my favouritest plays ever. I think generally there’s not enough production of theatrical shorts for my liking – not least because they’re a reasonably good bet to draw in people who may find full-length plays a trifle wearying!

 

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From the four sketches which constituted the first half of the evening, the pick of the bunch for me was “The Black and White”, a quickie featuring two “rande dames” of the MK Theatre scene (Sue Whyte and Caroline Mann) as a pair of tatty old bag ladies. They were clearly having plenty of fun with the roles, throwing themselves into hunching and soup-slurping with gleeful relish.

 

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But there was loads to enjoy in the others, too. Short, sour glimpses into the instantly recognisable world of Pinter as it began to grow. In “Last To Go”, a drab newspaper seller (a gloriously mundane Tony Ffitch) blathers about nothing much to a tea vendor (Bill Handley with a wry smirk). The slightly later-dated “Night”, a conversation between a couple (Paul Wogan and Carolyn Vale) trying to remember their first meeting with differing memories, hinted at some very dark waters while remaining largely humdrum on the surface – yer archetypal Pinter motif. And “Request Stop”, featuring Izzy Pryor as a paranoid suburban housewife ranting at a bus stop, was stolen by the physical performances of her three companions in the queue (the bemused Joe Seville and the hilarious silent slapstick of June Raynor and Johanna Steele

 

(pause)

 

I knew it was going to be difficult reviewing “The Dumb Waiter” – not only have I been in it several times myself, but I’ve actually played both of the two characters, Ben & Gus. So in theory I know it word for word (and though it’s been a few years, most of it was still in there!). But luckily the Pepper’s Ghost interpretation was very good, so all I need do here is enthuse. The playlet I treasure so was in safe hands.

 

It’s essentially (he says, peering over his glasses) a play about the relationship between the two men, and Joe Seville and the ever-watchable Andy Davis played it reasonably subtly. Seville’s Gus was whiny but not dim-witted (of course you wouldn’t get to be a hitman if you were!) and Davis’ Ben was a cold steely-eyed killer. They bounced off each other with a believable chemistry, pitching the comedy and the growing dread evenly – though as often happens with Pinter the audience weren’t always sure which way to go… Laughter was commonplace near the start of the play but interestingly died away gradually.

 

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The set was plain, which brings out the claustrophobia as the two men wait for their orders with increasing frustration and uncertainty. Highlights for me included: the ever-popular “Eccles Cake” controversy; Ben & Gus’s frantic interaction with the inexplicable dumb waiter orders; and best of all, the lowering of the lights during their creepy “going over the routine” section, leaving their faces stark and skeletal, very sinister. So, a brilliant play by a great playwright done well. Which is pretty much par for the course with Pepper’s Ghost, really. A grand night out.

 

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