THE BIRTHDAY PARTY
by Harold Pinter.
Royal Exchange Theatre St Ann’s Square M2 7DH To 6 July 2013.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm Sat 8pm Mat Wed 2.30pm & Sat 3.30pm.
Audio-described 29 June 3.30pm.
BSL Signed 5 July.
Captioned 27 June.
Post-show Discussion 20 June.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 12 June.
Some splendid performances in an often natural-flowing Party..
It was Richard Gregory’s Tyneside production of The Dumb Waiter, another late 1950s Harold Pinter play, which showed me how the playwright’s famous pauses work. They’d often seemed contrived, but seemed natural as Gregory’s cast spoke in working Tyneside rhythms instead of a self-conscious, middle-class manner.
Most people, much of the time, sidle up to thoughts, or go along with others. They speak, and repeat what they say, to fill an embarrassing silence. Or to assure themselves as much as others their point is clear.
The fact of speaking often matters more than the words used. Unlike previous plays, their dialogue shaped to make points directly, Pinter’s make their impact through the lack of any apparent purpose in what’s said.
Blanche McIntyre’s Royal Exchange revival shows this natural quality. When Petey returns to his wife Meg’s seaside boarding-house from his morning deckchair round, he’s not being scornful because he already knows her supposed breakfast surprise is fried bread. Nor is she disappointed it’s no surprise.
They’re just saying the words to keep the routine connection, rather than actually communicating. Maggie Steed’s Meg sails confidently on, unassailable in her limited understanding of life, while Paul McCleary’s quiet Petey is happy in his routine, silently becoming aware enough to show timid resistance to the visiting enforcers.
It’s this little world the newcomers invade as they zoom-in on lodger Stanley. Contrasting outsiders, Desmond Barrit’s Jewish Goldberg presents an energetic smiling front till upset, Keith Dunphy’s McCann a taciturn, sullen Irishman (covering two categories often excluded, along with ‘Blacks’, by notices in 1950s landladies’ windows).
Pinter makes clear people often do not understand themselves. Danusai Samal’s Lulu brings out the worst in Stanley, sexual desire exploding in the dark in a performance that suggests he might well need psychiatric help.
Ed Gaughan’s extreme portrayal is the production’s puzzling aspect. And it’s not helped by its design, a rare case of in-the-round staging defeated by a play’s demands. As Steed’s Meg has to rush from a serving-hatch to enter at one of the auditorium doors, the play does something unexpected, imposing new pauses on Pinter.
Petey: Paul McCleary.
Meg: Maggie Steed.
Stanley: Ed Gaughan.
Lulu: Danusia Samal.
Goldberg: Desmond Barrit.
McCann: Keith Dunphy.
Director: Blanche McIntyre.
Designer: Dick Bird,
Lighting: Malcolm Rippeth.
Sound: Gregory Clarke,
Fight director: Kevin McCurdy.
Assistant director: Holly Race Roughan.