Beginning with an impassioned re-enactment by Mark Rylance of Pinter’s Nobel Prize lecture of 2005, directed by Harry Burton, Pinter at the Pinter: One is subsequently made up of two halves, directed by Jamie Lloyd and Lia Williams respectively.
Lloyd’s pitiless political first act consists of eight of Pinter’s plays and poems. Pinter’s work responds to and reflects atrocities ranging from Nicaraguan genocide to torture in Guantanamo Bay, spanning from the Holocaust to 9/11, from Soviet Russia to the Iraq War. However, when transported to 2018, these texts have just as much political clout and relevance. Neither Lloyd, nor indeed Pinter, wish to tell a story but merely show the audience a frank examination of our epoch.
Lloyd employs bold directorial decisions throughout the act, perhaps most notably in The Pres and An Officer where a guest star interprets the role of The President of the USA directly as Donald Trump. Pinter died some eight years before Trump’s election and yet this directorial choice to mimic our current president brings the text solidly into the American politics of 2018.
This playful caricature is juxtaposed by the chilling Mountain Language and One For The Road; individuals subjugated by dictatorships are degraded and humiliated through torture. Pinter’s brutal language and imagery are heightened and made all the more disturbing through strong performances across the board. In our post-Brexit Britain and amongst the refugee crisis in Europe, these texts are ominously important: in the world of these plays, bigotry is the norm, ‘the Other’ is scapegoated, cultures are brutalised and exterminated.
If Lloyd’s first act of Pinter at the Pinter: One provides us with political pull, director Lia Williams’ second act staging of Ashes to Ashes answers with the personal. The beautifully languid and deliberately ambiguous piece remains intangible and yet is still pedantic and purposeful. The audience witness the deterioration of Rebecca’s mental state as she explores her inscrutable past traumas with Devlin, through sizzling performances from Kate O’Flynn and Paapa Essiedu. The piece is heart wrenching and gripping throughout, layered with complex sexual overtones and harrowing imagery of conflict and subjugation. A victim claims her past as she recalls and rewrites her history, gaining a haunting voice and a defiant identity.
Lloyd, Williams and indeed the entire company of Pinter at the Pinter: One have achieved a truly remarkable feat by retaining the true essence of Pinter’s work whilst illustrating its stark wisdom. The acting is faultless in its precision and the direction must be praised for its boldness. Filled with subtext, these are texts which can arguably be transported to any time period and context. However, the subtleties are preserved and given authority through their interpretations. Perhaps in 2018, Pinter has more urgency than ever before.
Pinter at the Pinter: One runs at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 20th October 2018.
Image © Carl Woodword