The Theatreguide.London Review
At The Pinter: Landscape, A Kind Of Alaska and others
Harold Pinter Theatre Autumn 2018
Part of a season devoted to Harold Pinter's one-act plays, this selection uses two actual plays – 1969's Landscape and 1982's A Kind Of Alaska as bookends to a string of revue sketches and one-joke blackouts, some barely two minutes long.
Landscape is the strongest piece. An older couple, evidently servants to an unseen employer, sit in a kitchen alienated from each other as only a long-married couple can be.
While he speaks of the prosaic events of his day – a walk in the park, an argument in a pub – she is lost in the memory of a romantic and erotic encounter of her youth.
In the mode typical of his earlier work Pinter invites questions and speculations he carefully does not answer. Is her memory of him in a time when the two did connect romantically, of another man she betrayed him with, or just of an escapist fantasy? Is it his total lack of imagination and poetry that drives her into escape, or is it her refusal to engage with him that freezes him out?
What is clear, and sadly believable, is the portrait of two people inhabiting the same space while totally isolated from each other.
Director Jamie Lloyd has chosen to amplify Tamsin Greig's voice, to underline the point that we are hearing her inner thoughts. But that puts the actress as a disadvantage, making it harder to suggest subtle inflections of tone or emotion, and perversely putting a barrier between us and the character.
Partly as a result of that, the husband's role becomes more dominant, Keith Allen able to suggest that the man's dark mood may be a reaction to being locked out of his wife's inner life.
Inspired by an Oliver Sachs account of patients briefly released from years of a locked-in state, A Kind Of Alaska shows a woman who fell into a coma as a teenager awakening to find herself in her forties.
I have to confess that this play never really worked for me, much of its reputation built on a legendary luminous performance by Judi Dench in the original staging.
Here Tamsin Greig only rarely catches to voice of the child in the woman's body, in such things as her self-conscious use of 'big' words she's pleased to have in her vocabulary.
And so the focus shifts here to the doctor played by Keith Allen, delicately indicating the devotion and even love of one who has given his life to this one patient. Meera Syal does too little with the patient's sister, whose loyalty and love are rewarded by not being recognised.
The nine short pieces in between range from the trivial to the ineffectual – short jokes written to be performed between musical numbers or to cover scenery changes in the kind of stage revues that last flourished in the 1950s.
In 'Apart From That' a telephone conversation is comically opaque because the speakers don't need to explain what they're talking about. In 'Special Offer' a woman is both offended and intrigued by an advertisement for a male brothel, while in 'Girls' a man works himself into a frenzy over a scrap of pornography.
Pinter went through a phase of sketches whose whole point was that they went nowhere, and 'That's All' is a couple of women gossiping about nothing, while others were just enjoying the sound of language, like the rattling off of the names for machine tool parts in 'Trouble In The Works.'
Evidently not having much faith in the material, director Jamie Lloyd has encouraged his cast to overact and go for the easiest laughs. Meera Syal's cheery American evangelist in 'God's District' is a broad cartoon, while Lee Evans and Keith Allen are in full Monty Python biddy drag as the gossipers.
Only 'Monologue' is sufficiently more than a black-out gag to allow Lee Evans to develop a character as a man who tries to remain upbeat as he begins to realise he is one of life's designated losers.
The combination of uneven texts and uninspired direction make this one of the weakest of the several separate programmes making up the Pinter season.
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