There is something a little odd about
looking down on an attic-room set from the vertiginously raked
auditorium of Trafalgar Studio 1. One feels semi-celestial, not quite
on the same plane of existence as the characters before and below us.
But of course, the disquiet of Harold Pinter’s plays is due to the
combination of strangeness and familiarity his worlds evoke.
Sarah Hemming praised Christopher Morahan’s production on its opening
at the Liverpool Everyman last October, and it arrives in London with
one of the three roles recast but with its strengths intact. As Davies,
the tramp taken into this ramshackle garret by Aston, Jonathan Pryce is
excellent. He plays the character with a strong Welsh accent and
occasional forays into Received Pronunciation for rhetorical effect.
This Davies has spent so long living rough that when Aston makes to go
out for a while, he assumes that he must also leave; it does not occur
to him that he might be trusted in there on his own. That much is
implicit in Pinter’s script; what Pryce adds is a gaze of incredulous
awe on the set of keys Aston offers him. Yet Davies is clearly not as
guileful as he believes himself; when he attempts to play Aston and his
brother Mick off against each other, we can see as he cannot how
blatant his stratagems are.
Peter McDonald begins his portrayal of Aston in a generic south London
accent so unexpected from this Irish actor that I was initially
uncertain whether he was expending too much energy playing the accent
rather than the character. But no, this precision is a deliberate
choice, and comes into its own in his monologue about his past
electro-shock therapy, which was underplayed so masterfully as to draw
spontaneous applause on opening night. Sam Spruell, succeeding Tom
Brooke in the role of Mick, does not exude a constant air of menace;
rather, his easy bonhomie seems unforced, making his outbursts of rage
the more unsettling for coming out of an almost clear sky. I am not
sure about Morahan’s decision to show Mick watching the other two from
behind a stage gauze at the beginning and end of the evening: it may
symbolise the bond between the brothers such that Davies’ power-plays
were always doomed to failure, but it also casts doubt on Mick’s
attitude on first encountering Davies directly. Nevertheless, despite a
somewhat leisurely dramatic pace, this is as fine a production as a
Pinter devotee could wish.
Written for the Financial