The Birthday Party at The Harold Pinter Theatre: Review
Since watching The Homecoming at Trafalgar Studios (2015) and The Caretaker at the Old Vic (2016), I have developed a fondness for reinventions of Pinter's uncomfortable, puzzling plays. Ian Rickson's revival similarly respects the original text whilst offering a controlled and fresh interpretation of The Birthday Party.
The party is held at Meg and Petey's tired seaside boarding-house, a dusty place with peeling wallpaper and fried bread breakfasts, where Stanley has resided for about a year and has become very much part of the furniture. Their mundane lives are disrupted by the suspicious arrival of Goldberg and McCann and from this point on, the sense of peril never quite leaves the stage.
The casting of Toby Jones as the mulish hermit is brilliant. His Stanley is shuffling and grubby, relishing the mothering, and sometimes smothering, nature of his ditzy landlady (Zoe Wanamaker), before viciously tormenting her. He strikes the balance between menace and vulnerability expertly; you never quite know whether to be afraid of him, or afraid for him. Often, it's both.
Much like Timothy Spall's Davies in The Caretaker, Stanley's identity is unclear and the truth about his past a mystery. He once played piano all over the world, or was it just at a concert hall in Lower Edmonton? In fact, nobody is quite who they appear to be. McCann is also Dermot or Seamus, and Goldberg goes by Simey and Benny.
Stephen Mangan's Goldberg is a commanding presence, especially when he is alongside Jones' cowering Stanley. He seems to wear a permanent threatening grin, which aids him to deliver Pinter's darkly comedic lines with a satisfying bluntness. He also appears to create a few jokes of his own, such as when he requests Lulu get up from his lap for him to awkwardly rearrange his trousers.
What I find so delightfully frustrating about Pinter's plays is how he forces you to imagine: to visualise Lulu's horror in the darkness, to ponder Stanley's fate outside the confines of the boarding-house, to wonder when Meg will realise that her lodger is gone. Ultimately, the power of this play rests in its ability to haunt you long after the curtain has fallen.
The Birthday Party is running at The Harold Pinter Theatre until 14 April 2018.
a bit of background...
Before I left England in June 2016 to travel, I lived in London for two years, visiting the theatre around once a week. My family frequently took me to the theatre when I was growing up so my love for the stage has grown organically over the past twenty years. I follow closely the works of Headlong, Complicité, Kneehigh, Punchdrunk, Grandage and Branagh, and I am partial to a great musical.