Review – Pinter’s People

Wednesday 31 January 2007

Pinter’s PeopleTo the innocent theatregoer the words “rarely performed” may denote a rare opportunity to be seized upon; but in the jaded and cynical minds of the West End Whingers they simply set off vague alarm bells: “Rarely performed because…?”

So Phil dug his cuban heels in on this one. Wild horses would not drag him to the Theatre Royal Haymarket in the heart of London’s famous West End to see Pinter’s People, a compilation of 14 rarely performed sketches by playwright Harold Pinter, the Prince of Pause.

But Andrew is a slower learner for whom every trip to the theatre is a triumph of optimism over experience. And so it was that – seduced by the stellar, comedic combination of Bill Bailey, Sally Phillips, Kevin Eldon and Geraldine McNulty – he dragged substitute Agency Phil along to the final preview last night.

Bill Bailey in Pinter’s People

Bailey (left), whose project this is, has had a long-held ambition to present a collection of Pinter’s revue sketches. He explains in the notes that “they range from brilliantly observed vignettes from everyday life to short scenes which are by turns surreal, poignant, tender and even terrifying.”

Note the absence of the key adjective “funny”.

Although some of the sketches raised a smile (Sally Phillips fought particularly valiantly to inject some spark) there was little laughter from the audience, especially in the first act.

The problem is that the material just isn’t funny enough. If this show had been presented without acknowledging Pinter as the author, the writing would be met with bemusement at best. Of course, that anonymity would rapidly have been blown by the countless pauses which make the two hour running time feel like something much longer.

There was enthusiastic applause from the fan base at the curtain call, but there were few ear-to-ear grins on the audience as they spilled out onto the Haymarket.

9 Responses to “Review – Pinter’s People”

  1. Andrea Says:

    I would agree, the pauses are far far too long and pointless. There is a sereve lack of laughs and many people left half way through

  2. nicholas sutton Says:

    I thought that this review is all wrong. The acting was great, the writing was quirky and clever, but the pauses were to long.

  3. Pinter himself says if he had it to do it over again he’d just use the same convention that David Mamet uses and replace all the dashes, elipses, pauses and silences with a simple beat. I think this is in answer to all the West End Whingers.

    Pinter told an interviewer that people speak because if they didn’t they would be naked. The key to making them effective is that they have to be earned. There can be no air at all amidst the dialogue until the pause is reached. Even then most of them should be an extra intake of breath, just long enough for the character to realize that what he was about to say is something he does not wish to say so instead he will say something else, or to let the last line linger while he chooses to launch off in a different direction. When the pauses become an issue it is usually because they’ve lost their impact because of the unwonted pauses which have preceeded them.

  4. Rosie McAndrew Says:

    Another Response to Pinter’s People

    What an opportunity…

    As a lifelong fan of Pinter, and about to direct my fourth production of one of his plays – The Dwarfs (after Betrayal, The Caretaker and The Homecoming), I was keen to see Pinter’s People at the Haymarket last Saturday. Especially as it was reputed to be bringing the humour of Pinter’s brilliant dialogue to life. So what happened?

    Bill Bailey was fine; he played it straight: wry, and with understanding. I had high enough hopes of Sally Phillips, with her talent for the quirky gleaming out of Smack the Pony and Green Wing. So why the histrionics?

    For a key example: the two women in The Black and White are archetypal bag ladies, obsessed with the minutiae of their uneventful lives, their conversation mutually sustaining, spiced up with one of Pinter’s tellingly observed favorites: the bus route interchange. Those bus numbers beloved of Londoners born and bred. What call, then, for Ms Phillips to adopt a heavy Eastern European accent, a lumbering, coarse persona, and an even heavier handed abuse of the classic, oh so subtle mechanism of the pause? Pauses in Pinter are pauses for thought, for the character to register (and let us register) mis-matches, confusions or anomalies, before they plug on, apparently regardless; or they are there to give wind of hidden meanings, or menace. There was no need to ‘jazz up’ the dialogue, to make it funny. It is funny, in and of itself. The whole tapestry needs to be non-committal and low key. It wasn’t.

    In That’s All, her chance to relish the low-toned, drawn-out quality of those overlapping utterance-affirming refrains of ‘Ye-es’, and ‘No, I know’, characteristic of women of a certain age engaged in inconsequential chat, was blown. Instead we had a disconcerting series of brash ripostes, with no apparent connection either to text or character.

    Kevin Eldon seemed possessed of an equivalent urge to overact. In Trouble in the Works the monopaced, monopitched delivery of his blustering manager, Fibbs, was in a pantomime idiom completely at odds with the measured interpretation of Bill Bailey’s Wills. It quickly jarred on the ear, and unfortunately set the tone for Eldon’s subsequent performances, none of which erred in the direction of subtlety. Later, in Victoria Station, he adopted an artificially sterile, characterless monotone, taking away from Bailey’s performance, and again the demon ‘pause protractor’ was wilfully at work – and why? Nearly all the real comedy of relationship was lost in the process. As it was in the classic Last to Go, rendered pointlessly blank, rather than a deliciously observed comment on the typically absurd nature of insubstantial exchanges. What a waste!

    Whose fault was this? Surely not Bill Bailey, whose dream it was? Was it in the choice of the other actors? Was it that they each insisted on their own idiosyncratic interpretation, often flying in the face of the words themselves? Or was it all down to the director, Sean Foley? Whatever the reasons, surely he should have had the last, if not the first word?
    Rosie McAndrew

  5. Gosh, this show is a political hot potato, isn’t it? We’re glad some people who know what they are talking about have contributed to this debate as the only thing we know for sure is that we don’t get Pinter. Way over our heads or something.

    We read somewhere the other day that this show was in celebration of Pinter’s 76th birthday which we presume must be satirical as if you’re going to celebrate 76 you’re presumably celebrate every year until he pauses for good.

  6. Cam Morgan Says:

    As a lifelong fan of Pinter I was eager to see his ‘little performed’ sketches, starring the comedy genius Bill Bailey. But I have to admit that the production was something of a ‘curate’s egg’ – though even the good parts were lacking in a vital ingredient.

    The power of Pinter is his ability to find menace and fear in the mundane, the use of silence to create tangible tension, and his ability to scrape away the thin veneer of daily life to display something much more disturbing and painful.

    Much of the problem was the text was not allowed to ‘speak’, being shouted down by over acting and grotesque caricature – Bailey being the only member of the 4-strong cast to take a step back and give Pinter a chance to take his place on stage.

    The sketches that worked best were the longer pieces – notably ‘Night’, with Geraldine McNulty and Bill Bailey as a long-married couple treading a parallel marriage path with little convergence, highlighted by their mismatched memories of their first intimate moment. Also ‘Victoria Station’, with Bailey as a taxi controller, trying to communicate with Kevin Eldon as an errant cabbie, whose lack of cooperation develops from frustrating to macabre as the piece continues. For me this sketch was both humourous and menacing – the most traditionally ‘Pinteresque’ piece of the show.

    It was a production worth observing for fleeting moments of Pinter magic – but mostly, and sadly, as a masterclass in how not to perform the great man’s work.

  7. Patrick Says:

    Are you guys kidding me??

    This was the biggest waste of time ever. The worst show I have ever seen. It was not funny, infact it was tense and difficult to watch at best. You have to be from England to love this drudge, which I am not. This was depressing. Don’t dance around the edges with well if only analysis. It’s not the pauses, its not the actors, its not Pinter, its all of it. It sucked, and it felt like some one pick pocketed me 40 pounds. The end.

  8. Tim Says:

    The whole point about the curate’s egg joke is that an egg cannot be good in parts. The egg in question is rotten, as was this production of “Pinter’s People”.
    Furthermore, how many people in their right mind would want to be “Pinter’s” ?

  9. jen Says:

    i went to see this play with an open mind. being an acting student i wanted to see it for more than just entertainment reasons. the first act seemed rather slow and only slightly humorous, but the second act completely changed my mind, i was laughing loads and loved the content within each sketch. the play was well worth the money and i would like to go back and see it again.

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