Luke Thallon and Jane Horrocks in Pinter Five. Photo credit Marc Brenner
This is part of the Pinter at The Pinter season, in which the complete collection of Harold Pinter’s one act plays are re-created by a variety of directors and a starry cast of actors. Directed by Patrick Marber, Pinter Five includes a triple bill of The Room, Victoria Station and Family Voices.
The Room is the first play from the late playwright. When it made its debut in 1957, it is said Pinter wrote it in only two days. The play opens with Bert and Rose Hudd (Rupert Graves and Jane Horrocks) in a dark and gloomy flat, on what is apparently a freezing cold day. Bert says not one word as his wife flits around making small talk, frequently repeating herself in an attempt to get her husband to react to her. Horrocks is suitably nervous, fingers plucking at the backs of chairs or trying to bring food and tea to her husband, whilst Graves’ deadpan and sometimes vicious stares are classic Pinter: creeping menace and long silences. Rose appears to cling to the hope that the room is her safe haven. Eventually Bert departs, and the play continues with various visitors interrupting Rose’s day – the landlord Mr Kidd (Nicholas Woodeson), some potential tenants Mr & Mrs Sands (Luke Thallon and Emma Naomi) and finally an old blind man, Riley (Colin McFarlane) who has come to give Rose a special message. The various disruptions reveal how scared Rose is in her paranoid lonliness. Finally the sinister Bert returns and we hear his only lines in the play, and things quickly descend into a quite shocking explosion of violence. This is very hard hitting for a debut play and still a tough watch.
Victoria Station is a 10-minute short, a two-hander between a taxi firm controller (Colin McFarlane) and a driver (Rupert Graves). This is a sharp contrast from the previous play – comedic in the main, but with typical Pinter darkness behind it. McFarlane is very entertaining as a Caribbean-accented minicab controller trying to persuade a driver to pick up a fare, his baffled rage producing some humorous methods of what he intends to do to his useless employee. Graves is quietly brilliant in his role as the dazed and confused driver, who appears to be having a mental breakdown.
Family Voices was originally written as a radio play. It makes it quite difficult to translate onto stage, because as a radio play it allows the listener to imagine scenes, but Marber is forced to add a visual element for theatre. The set is very clever, a rotating cube that allows the actors to move in and out, which suits the requirements for the two main characters. Performed as a series of monologues, it documents the never-received letters between a son and his mother. Luke Thallon totally steals the play here – performing as the son but also vividly impersonating the eccentric figures in the lodgings he inhabits, including a 15 year old girl and a sexual predator called Riley, his characterisation is excellent and demonstrates his talent. The son writes to his mother (Horrocks) and she responds with anger as the letters never seem to reach her and she cannot trace her runaway son. Graves also makes a brief appearance as the dead father.
The one theme running through these three plays is the inescapable isolation of its main characters – all of them are lonely and scared.
I did enjoy these, and I am by no means a Pinter aficionado, but the sets and lighting bring it together. Touching and nuanced in some ways, whilst also exploring fear and violence.
Pinter Five is at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 26th January. Pinter at the Pinter season runs until 23rd February.
Nicholas Woodeson in Pinter Five. Photo Credit Marc Brenner