Approaching the last few days of a long tour across the UK and Ireland which started in Cheltenham in the middle of February, and which ends in Coventry this weekend on June 18. I have reviewed a couple of shows previously under Michael Cabot’s direction (Equus and Absent Friends) but this falls some way short in comparison, and is not as good as I had expected or had hoped
Setting is a room inside a seaside boarding house. Proprietors, Meg and Petey have only one long term guest staying, named Stanley, who rarely ventures out. Therefore, the arrival of two physically strong male guests: one middle-aged, confident, who engages in anecdotal storytelling about himself all the time, while the second guy is younger; uptight; intense, who both become a distraction for Meg (albeit a mild one as there’s not much going on between the ears there). Whereas their arrival and possible intention is not so much of a surprise for Petey (probably).
The presence of the two men is hugely unsettling and confusing for Stanley however; but he’s not quite sure why!
An impromptu, seemingly innocent birthday party put on for Stanley turns what is already a squalid and miserable atmosphere, into something more secretive and sinister
The play is properly weird, and, at the same time, properly mundane, and what seems to have passed unnoticed in this body of work is that the onlookers eye balls need exercise in their sockets and the brain needs stimulating over the course of three Acts. With the stage lighting being fixed when on, or turned off completely, this did not really work on The Belgrade’s traditional main stage setting with its auditorium seating arrangement as it is. I am sure the experience would be quite different for audiences seated in a smaller venue, around, or closer to the what little stage action is occurring, but for me, in the stalls at the back, it became painful to remain focused and engaged
The dialogue is sometimes super slow and builds in scenes to being fast and fluid, but as far as the text goes it is all there and Harold Pinter is not a builder of personality, or does he seek sympathy for characters in quite the same way as Arthur Miller. Pinter is not in anyway condescending to his audience as frequently as Edward Albee. Nonetheless, I did not like this play, and the script is potentially not the main reason why on this occasion, to me it lacked a certain kind of authenticity and sadly performances are nothing to shout home about. A very average night spent at the theatre I’m afraid
Sharing a video presentation featuring the London Classic Theatre (LCT) production of 2016
Review by theatre critic, Debra Hall, who attended press night of The Birthday Party at The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry on Tuesday June 14, 2016