Pinter Five, part of the Pinter at the Pinter season, brings us Harold Pinter’s first play, The Room, from 1957. In it Jane Horrocks plays Rose Hudd. We find her preparing a meal for her taciturn husband Burt (Rupert Graves) in their one-room flat. In a scene reminiscent of Shirley Valentine, where Shirley prepares a meal for her absent husband and talks to her kitchen wall whilst doing so, Rose is busy talking about the coldness of the weather, the possibility of someone living in the basement flat, the dangers of going out driving in the cold. She goes on at some length but reveals very little of herself. Her husband says nothing and then goes out. The landlord (Nicholas Woodeson) then turns up. He seems unsure why he’s there, unaware even of how many floors there are in his own house. Potential tenants Mr and Mrs Sands (Luke Thallon and Emma Naomi) also find themselves in Rose’s flat. Things become more bizarre as the landlord then introduces Riley, a blind man, (Colin McFarlane) who has a message from Rose’s father. When Burt returns things take a serious turn for the worse for Riley.
It’s all a bit ‘Inside number 9′, but with the one act plays in this Pinter season I’ve learned it’s not always rewarding to attempt to solve the apparent puzzle. In the end too many questions are left with ambiguous or no answers. Is Jane Horrocks’ character a ghost? Her husband seems not to be aware of her and she claims never to go outside the room. What is the secret that Riley’s arrival threatens to expose, a secret so potent that Burt reacts to it with extreme violence? Jane Horrocks does the heavy lifting in this piece, her expressions showing incomprehension and fear brilliantly, as the outside world breaks into her safe, cosy one-room existence. Nicholas Woodeson’s Mr Kidd is just off-centre with the world. His manner is carefully peculiar but not so much you put your guard up.
Victoria Station is not really a one act play. Lasting just 10 minutes it’s almost an extended sketch. Colin McFarlane is in the cab office trying to get a sensible answer from one of his drivers (Rupert Graves in his second taciturn, dishevelled role of the evening). He becomes more and more frustrated at his driver’s inability to answer even simple questions, like ‘where are you?’ It follows what I’m coming to learn is the Pinter signature format with many of these short items. Things start in an almost boringly ordinary situation which gradually, by often comic turns, becomes more and more surreal until a tipping point is reached when things turn either bleak or tragic or both. Colin McFarlane plays exasperation well, whilst also showing his dawning realisation that all is not well in the cab in question. What has actually occurred is not made explicit so you can apply your own solution. The degree to which you find this satisfying will govern the amount of pleasure you get from these plays.
Family Voices began life as a radio play. It’s a series of letters between Luke Thallon as a son living away from home writing to his mother (Jane Horrocks) and the mother writing to him. I say the letters are between them. In fact it’s clear none of the son’s letters are reaching the mother who becomes by turns worried, distressed and angry. The boy’s father then joins the conversation even though we’ve been told he’s dead. Once again we find ourselves in a typical and relatable environment but where the action takes a turn for the just plain odd.
There are fewer laughs here than in Pinter 6 which is also running until 26 January, but once again it’s a joy to be able to see such a fine cast excelling on stage right in front of you.
Pinter 5 runs at the Pinter Theatre until 26 January.
Sue in the Stalls attended courtesy of London Box Office.