An audience repeatedly bellowing with laughter – intentional laughter – at a Harold Pinter play? Oh, yes. That's what the man achieves in this premiere of his latest play, Celebration, twinned here with his first, The Room (1957). Gone the political, polemical Pinter of recent years; still visible the keynotes of old – the undefined menace, the surprise intrusion of faintly threatening outsiders. But both as author and director what he seems mostly to be doing, and letting us do, is have some fun.
The Room comes over as something of an historical artefact, with its dingy post-war décor and costumes (Lindsay Duncan in headscarf, Keith Allen in sheepskin car-coat). What is slightly surprising is that Pinter directs it this way as well. It is as if he is recreating a curio – an impression enhanced by the fact that Henry Woolf is once again, 43 years later, in the rôle which he originated in his own production at Bristol University. Pinter's particular voice is audible in the piece, but in general it feels less distinctive than generic, a low-key slice of 1950s British Absurdist theatre.
Celebration is a world away, socially at least. In a swish restaurant, a pair of East End new-moneyed wide boys and their wives (two brothers, two sisters) loudly and drunkenly celebrate a wedding anniversary; at the next table, a youngish banker and his wife also slide into their cups; the groups merge, and are visited by various members of staff. Inanity and vulgarity abound. Pinter might be making an observation about how everything nowadays is a commodity to be traded in: fine food, "strategy" (the brothers are, meaninglessly, "strategy consultants"), even anecdote. On the other hand, he might just be having a bit of a laugh. Certainly, he and his cast – also including Andy de la Tour, Steven Pacey and Lia Williams – do it excellently, but it all feels a little easy... especially the closing moments, which see the first straight-out soliloquy I can recall encountering in a Pinter play.
Written for The Scotsman.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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