THE BIRTHDAY PARTY: Harold Pinter.
Palace Theatre Mansfield.
Touring: info The London Classic Theatre www.londonclassictheatre.co.uk.
Runs: 2h 20m: one interval.
Review: Alan Geary: 7th June 2016.
LCT are on top form with this one.
London Classic Theatre, one of the finest touring companies around, weren’t at their best two years back with Betrayal, a relatively weak play from Harold Pinter. But with The Birthday Party, directed as ever by Michael Cabot, they’re back on top form. It’s almost up to the standard of their Caretaker in 2010.
The plot, such as it is, involves Meg and Petey, who keep a broken-down seaside boarding house. They and their two permanent guests, Stanley and Lulu are joined, for one night only as it turns out, by the mysterious Goldberg and McCann.
Since it is, or perhaps is not, Stanley’s birthday, Meg gives him a toy drum as a present and organises something of a party. It’s a strange party.
We get Pinter’s trademark air of menace – which in this play boils over into actual violence – issuing from the newcomers and directed mainly at Stanley.
And there are the unanswered questions. What, precisely, is wrong with Stanley? Who are Goldberg and McCann. And why is a middle-aged Jewish man with a waistcoat and endless family anecdotes that may or may not be true in some sort of partnership with a young Ulsterman who looks like a boxer? Why does McCann just happen to be carrying a torch with him?
And we know the breakfasts are bad – cornflakes, followed by a single slice of fried bread served on a platter complete with dome cloche– but is the milk acceptable (Petey) or is it off (Stanley)?
A lot of the dialogue is flat, realistic and oddly comical. “Is Stanley down yet?” Meg asks. But Petey points out that since he is not yet up, he can’t be down.
All the actors are first-rate. Perhaps the most noteworthy performances come from Jonathan Ashley, as Goldberg, with his stream of pretentious assertions, and Gareth Bennett-Ryan, as the puzzlingly troubled Stanley. Cheryl Kennedy’s Meg is simultaneously amusing and deeply pathetic. She’s anxious that the cornflakes are “nice”, proud that her establishment is “on the list”, and convinced that her party dress is becoming.
Both play and production linger on the mind.
Meg: Cheryl Kennedy.
Petey: Ged McKenna.
Stanley: Gareth Bennett-Ryan.
Lulu: Imogen Wilde.
Goldberg: Jonathan Ashley.
McCann: Declan Rodgers.
Director: Michael Cabot.
Designer: Bek Palmer.
Lighting Designer: Andy Grange.
Fight Director: John Fryer.