To 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.
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.