There’s been a plethora of Pinter recently with a flurry of revivals, rivaled only by George Bernard Shaw coming up on the inside track. So many in fact, that Andrew’s had enough. Having done The Hothouse, Pinter’s People and The Dumb Waiter last year he threw his arms in the air (as he’s wont to do) and inserted his own Pinteresque pause in the proceedings refusing to see any more. Either that or he was taking heed of the Met office’s warnings to “stay indoors”.
So Phil braved the storms and took himself off to the Comedy Theatre to see the Harold Pinter double-bill The Lover & The Collection.
Andrew clearly wasn’t alone (well he would have been actually but Phil hates to rub it in) staying at home and battening down his hatches, perhaps that’s why the Comedy was half full. Andrew would have called it half empty – doesn’t that just say it all?
But what a treat he missed. In The Lover (1962) a couple, Richard (Richard Coyle) and Sarah (Gina McKee) indulge in a series of typical Pinter cat-and-mouse games with each other. Sarah has a lover and her husband goes off to work each day leaving her to indulge in a bit of afternoon delight, seemingly happy about the situation – or is he?
The first half is laugh out loud stuff before it takes a darker turn. Phil hadn’t hooted this much at a Pinter since he saw Dora Bryan in The Birthday Party. But like that production it’s all in the playing, Coyle and McKee are excellent. Phil had yet another of his theatrical epiphanies (as he did with Michael Ball in Hairspray and Simon Russell Beale in Major Barbara), he’d never previously got the point of McKee but here she’s terrific to watch as she puts erotic nuance into almost every word. Her delivery of the word “piquant” has given it new meaning to Phil and he’ll now be giving it an airing at every opportunity.
The Collection (1961) sees Coyle and McKee coupled again, but her confession of adultery with a young hunk, Bill (Charlie Cox an amazingly confident west end debut) leads to different reactions from both her husband James and Bill’s “friend” Harry (Timothy West– also on top form). Bill initially denies the liason, but who’s telling the truth?
Elderly Harry took Bill into his house years ago. West has a speech where he tells how he rescued Bill from the slums repeatedly using the word slum to hilarious effect. How many different ways can you say slum? Phil’s often wondered this when he’s visited Andrew’s boarding house.
On top of all this there’s some nice sixties period detail. Cox wears what is apparently the must-have in every man’s wardrobe, the uber-trendy cardigan (there you are Andrew, Phil told you to hang on to them) and there’s also an enjoyably shocking tank top sported (less sucessfully) by Coyle.
The Lover’s set has a couple of black Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs just like the very ones Phil has in his salon at home (see right). Inspired to buy them after seeing a white pair on the Boeing Boeing set on this very stage last year, he was distracted trying to see if they were the same ones sprayed black.
Not much fodder for Phil’s burgeoning food-on-stage thesis. Apart from copious booze and fags (Andrew would have approved) consumption is limited to a solitary grape and a conversation about how disgusting olives are (“I detest them…it’s the smell) which pre-dates Mike Leigh’s famous olive scene in Abigail’s Party. No sign of cheese but plenty of talk about a “splendid cheese knife” which is then hurled across the stage and caught impressively by Charlie Cox in one hand. Or was this a cunning stage effect? Phil’s group were divided on this.
There’s also a creepy and unconvincing prop kitten which McKee fondles, prompting talk of her “beautiful kitten”. Since everything else is so loaded with sexual innuendo Phil thought Pinter was having a Mollie Sugden moment. Odd really as Phil’s party (Webcowgirl, Jason and Sue) had been talking about British comedy and Mrs Slocombe’s “pussy” during the interval – spooky indeed. So Pinter pre-dated Are You Being Served? too. The man’s a genius.
Yes it was a very agreeable evening all round and all over in just over 2 hours (including interval). But does Pinter have a point? Well, yes. It means Phil gets to go out without Andrew’s drowsy chaperoning. More Pinter please!
Footnote: Trying to book using the Ambassador Theatre Group special offer* provided more comedy than most shows can ever muster.
Phil: I’d like to book using the ‘collection’ offer for the Pinter double-bill at the Comedy.
Ambassador Theatre Group: I can’t find that offer.
Phil: This is the number on the flyer, it’s the ‘collection’ offer, I’ve got it in front of me now.
ATG: (tersely) Well I’ve got over 30 offers here, I can’t find that one, (Pinteresque pause) oh here it is.
(takes Phil’s credit card details)
ATG: So that’s 4 tickets for Legal Fictions at the Savoy Theatre.
Phil: No, I wanted the Pinter double-bill at the Comedy.
ATG: Oh. Well I’ll have to cancel that booking and start again then. So what date was it you wanted?
ATG: Look! I’m trying to help you. So that’s 4 in row C.
ATG: Oh, I haven’t got four in row C. I’ve got 4 in row E.
Phil: That’ll be fine.
ATG: Can I have all your credit card details again?
Phil: Er… yes, do we have to go through all that again?
Phil went through all the details again and requested a confirmation email, which, when he opened it was for Legal Fictions. He rang the number straight back but as it was after 10pm was directed through to Ticketmaster. Explaining the problem, the conversation went thus:
Ticketmaster: What show was it you wanted?
Phil: The Pinter double-bill at the Comedy Theatre.
Tm: The Comedy Store? Mmmm, we’ve got several things on there.
Phil: No, The Comedy Theatre.
Tm: Oh sorry yes. Mmm, we’ve only got two events on there, The Lover and the Collection. Which one would you like?
Phil: Well both, it’s a double-bill.
Tm: I’m not really into theatre.
Fabulous, but unfortunately it all got sorted in the end. The first call to the Ambassador Theatre group was preceded by the message, “this call may be recorded for training purposes”. Priceless. If only all ticket agencies were this entertaining. Phil thought he’d got much more than his three pounds worth, and is reconsidering his aversion to booking fees. No wonder the Comedy was so empty, presumably the Pinter audience had turned up at Legal Fictions.
* 0870 060 6637 and quote ‘Collection’ offer. £45 tickets reduced to £25 (no booking fee stated in the offer but they will slap on a total £3 booking fee).