Sunday, 23 June 2013

The Birthday Party, Royal Exchange Manchester 8/6/13

Um, well..... I know Harold Pinter was a highly respected playwright, and as a theatre enthusiast I am probably supposed to nod sagely and have educated discussions on the motivations of the author and the profound effect his play had on the audience, but I just didn't 'get' this play, and spent much of it wondering when it would end.

I am fine with ambiguity in a play, I don't need everything to be tied up in a nice story with a beginning, middle and an end, and I do enjoy being challenged, but I just found this play to be incomprehensible, with unconvincing and inconsistent characters, and a messy and random narrative. I've read a few reviews of this production since I saw it and people rave about Pinter and how he challenges the audiences, but I'm afraid my main challenge in my first experience of Pinter was how to make it to the end without drifting off.

That's not to say this is a dreadful production, the performances were excellent, especially the very creep and controlled McCann (Keith Dunphy). And the cast and director did a great job in raising the levels of tension in the room, whilst at the same time delivering some very funny moments, I'll certainly never be able to think of the word 'succulent' in the same light again! However, the static and stilted nature of some of the dialogue doesn't really lend itself to the 'in the round' staging, especially when you spend a long period looking at one actors back whilst they are blocking the only other actors in the scene. And the use of the serving hatch was clunky, especially as it required a sprint from the actor from there to stage entrance each time and wasn't visible to a third of the audience. 

Maybe you have to be the right kind of person to 'get' Pinter, and I am not that person it seems. The mystery of the two visitors mildly held my interest until just before the interval, but after that I have to admit I was clock watching and didn't really care where the men were from or what hold they had over Stanley, I was just glad when I could escape back into a slightly more comprehensible world. I don't think I'll be seeking out more Pinter anytime soon!

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