Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

I'll drink to that, (and one for Mahler)

July 18, 2007

Toby Stephens as Jerry and Dervla Kirwan as Emma
Photo: Donmar Warehouse 2007
Summertime in London can mean only one thing - all the Harold Pinter you can handle! Well, not actually, but this summer has included two major revivals of the Nobel laureate's works that I had the pleasure of seeing towards the end of my recent London trip. The Donmar Warehouse is currently wrapping up their run of Betrayal from 1978. The Donmar has made its name with smart, literate, and superbly-acted productions, and this is no exception. It has an A-list cast of British stage and screen veterans including Toby Stephens as Jerry, Samuel West as Tom and Dervla Kirwan as Emma. All three actors deliver biting performances that show how much the characters betray themselves as much as each other. Betrayal is remarkable in that it is one of those works that is far more sophisticated than it seems on the surface. While it mines standard themes of marital infidelity, Pinter adds layers of more subtle meaning by telling the tale in reverse order. Director Roger Michell has created a focused but somewhat floating production that wafts in between a number of sheer white curtains used for backdrops and to denote scene changes. The play is not just about spouses betraying each other but, in these capable hands, transforms into something much more.

Meanwhile, the National Theater is about to open a new production of one of Pinter's earliest plays The Hothouse from 1958 directed by Ian Rickson. The Hothouse is one of Pinter's "comedies of menace" and this staging succeeds on both fronts tremendously. Both hysterically funny and highly unsettling, the play concerns staff who appear to be working in a mental institution who may not be readily distinguishable from the often discussed but never seen patients. Hildegard Bechtler has set the action in a more operatic than claustrophobic set, which lends the proceedings an extra sense of irony. As is usually the case in Pinter's world, much of little consequence is discussed and barely disguised emotions flower in the heat of the mundane. There were some problems with minor technical issues, but considering that this was a preview, I think it highly likely many of these issues will be resolved by the time the play opens this week. The cast is filled with actors who know their way around Pinter's work including the Roote of Stephen Moore and Lia Williams's Miss Cutts. Paul Ritter turns in a near maniacal performance as Lush that nearly steals the entire evening. It's a very good show and a nice contrast to the Donmar production. See them both.

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