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Posts Tagged ‘Harold Pinter Theatre’

I saw Chimerica recently at the Harold Pinter theatre.  I came out feeling extremely positive – it’s an exciting piece of theatre.  The set really is extraordinary, and usually if one is commenting on the set, the production must have been pretty insignificant.  But in this instance, the set and the production are of a very high standard.  It’s a piece that exercised my brain, made me concentrate on keeping up with the ideas.  It wasn’t until later that I started to feel it had all been a bit…hollow.  I think it was because the Western characters felt a bit like cyphers.  They didn’t convince as real people, with complex emotional hinterlands.  The love story was just cheesy (although when the characters were less emotionally involved I found their relationship credible – awkward and hesitant and funny).  Some lines felt lifted from a bad movie (‘I love you, and I think I’ve been in love with you for a very long time’), and the revealed pregnancy at the end was cliched and unconvincing.

Zhang Lin seemed a much more believable character.  I found his emotional statis compelling, the tragedy deepened when we learn, or remember, how the events of the Tiananmen Square uprising have been utterly excised from Chinese history and public discourse.  He cannot grieve, because what happened to him did not happen to him.  He is completely lost.  This storyline has enough poignancy, it does not need to be made into melodrama by turning Zhang Lin into ‘Tank Man’.  Perhaps it was supposed to be representative, but it felt heavy-handed.

I’m not sure I learnt much that was new to me, not because I’m any kind of expert in Chinese politics, but because we were not presented with viewpoints that would suprise us.  That doesn’t make them untrue, or even cliched, but I would like to have had some of my preconceptions challenged, rather than reinforced.  I hadn’t, however, thought much about Tiananmen Square since not long after it happened.  It was therefore important to be reminded.  Particularly because the Chinese public are not allowed to be.

It’s a very impressive piece of writing and staging.  I enjoyed it a lot.  The playwright is still very young, and what lies ahead must be work of even more sophistication, deftness and emotional maturity.

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I went to see Old Times, for the first time, in 2004.  I went alone.  That is important.  I’d never been to a Pinter play before.  That too is important.  Nine years ago.  A long time.

I remember that the language captivated me, the odd and unsettling use of words.  I remember that the set was very plain, all white, open therefore to whatever interpretation you wished to place on the piece.  I remember that it made me laugh, but mostly it made me ache.  I remember that the actors became the characters, inhabited them completely.  Jeremy Northam’s artificial loucheness that gradually shatters, Helen McCrory’s sheen of sophistication that gradually slips to reveal the naked longing and vulnerability beneath, and Gina McKee’s impassivity, which suddenly, shockingly, holds all the power.  I remember I’d recently seen the film they make reference to, Carol Reed’s ‘Odd Man Out’.  I’d seen it with someone I was quietly obsessed with.  That too, at the time, was important.

Afterwards, I travelled home, alone, in silence.  I went and sat in my dark nighttime garden, and smoked, and felt as if I was still living in the world of the play.

Pinter’s pauses have become a clichéd shorthand for the way he lets the audience participate in the drama.  There is space to enter the text, to interpret.  People who don’t know his work don’t know how funny it is, or how shocking.  There is a great deal of violence in his plays, and in Old Times it is an unseen emotional violence, the struggle over possession.  Possession of another, of the story, of the power in the room.  It is terrifying, and horrifying, and nothing happens.  Just ripples.  ‘…always wait…for the ripples to pervade and pervade the surface, for of course as you know ripples on the surface indicate a shimmering in depth down through every particle of water down to the river bed…’

All these things I remember.  They may never have happened but as I recall them so they take place.

I saw Old Times again, last night.  Rufus Sewell, with Kristin Scott Thomas as Anna and Lia Williams as Kate.  The performances were very accomplished, and credible.  But this director’s view of the play was completely at odds with my own.  Even the set was far more ‘real’, the colour scheme in the second, final, section far too deterministic (the colour of the characters’ clothes matched the piece of furniture they ended the play occupying). This was played like a farce.  It is farcical, in part, but there is more strangeness and terror in a minor key (not necessarily true of The Birthday Party, but true, for me, of Old Times).  This was played like a brass section, trumpeting, loud.  My first experience was played like a woodwind piece, a strange, mournful, unsettling, frightening lament.

All these things I remember.  I would like you to understand that I came here not to disrupt but to celebrate.

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